Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The curious case of Maharashtra Cabinet and amendments in the CrPC

In a recent development, the Maharashtra cabinet has amended a provision of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to prevent filing of an FIR against a ‘public representative’ without the sanction of a ‘competent authority’. The competent authority can be identified as the speaker of the assembly in case of MLAs, and Chief Secretary in case of bureaucrats. The amendment is also applicable to elected representatives of panchayats and municipalities.

This becomes pretty interesting as Maharashtra has alarming high numbers of elected representatives with declared criminal cases. According to analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), of affidavits submitted by MLAs from Maharashtra at the time of election in 2014, 165 (57%) of the MLAs had declared criminal cases. Out of these 51 (31%) MLAs had declared cases where charges had been framed. Among all legislative assemblies in India, Maharashtra is second highest after Jharkhand in the proportion of MLAs with criminal cases. 3 MLAs had declared cases related to murder and attempt to murder while 11 MLAs declared cases related to crimes against women, 3 MLAs declared cases related to causing communal disharmony, 14 MLAs with cases of robbery and dacoity and 9 MLAs with cases related to kidnapping.

According to the latest report by ADR, even in the recent local body elections in Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, out of 105 winners analysed, 17 had declared criminal cases out of which 13 had declared serious criminal cases. In the Vasai Virar City Municipal elections, 17 (17%) out of 102 winners declared criminal cases wherein 12 had serious cases. While this amendment to the CrPC is not applicable to Members of Parliament, it is important to note that criminality even among MPs of Maharashtra is alarmingly high, wherein 31 (65%) out of 48 MPs have criminal cases.

Professor Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms has condemned the amendment and said, “This decision of the Maharashtra cabinet goes directly against Article 14 of the Constitution of India which guarantees ‘equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws’ to “any person within the territory of India.’ This decision obviously gives ‘greater protection’ to MLAs and bureaucrats, and therefore makes them ‘more equal’ than ordinary citizens.”

ADR has written to the Maharashtra Cabinet and urged it to repeal the amendment to CrPC.

This entire episode makes one wonder if the political class is working to save the elected representatives with a criminal background. Getting sanction from the ‘competent authority’ will certainly be a herculean task for any ordinary citizen. The amendment takes the process of justice one step backwards and elongates the overall process. A collective decision of a state cabinet, where BJP is in the power, makes one wonder the vision behind it. An unconstitutional amendment by the ruling BJP government is not only sad but a threat to people who dare to stand against the political class. When a government is out there to save the criminals, what can the public really expect?

We hope the Maharashtra cabinet understands the seriousness of the matter and repeals the unconstitutional amendment.

This article was first published by on June 22, 2015

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