No easy fixes
- Rail Budget 2015: No hike in passenger fares, Prabhu promises modern rail network
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- Rail Budget futuristic and passenger centric: PM Modi
- PDP, BJP thrash out differences; all clear for Mufti-Modi meeting tomorrow
- Hummer horror: Senior policeman suspended for secretly meeting Kerala businessman
Legal solutions to political problems are usually too blunt to be useful
The Supreme Court has decided that legislators who have been convicted must resign, rather than be allowed to sit through their terms as they appeal their cases. The Representation of the People Act gives serving MPs and MLAs a pass, if they are in the process of appealing — which can take years, given the slow and overburdened judicial system. Since convicted candidates are prohibited from contesting elections anyway, this move would bring sitting MPs and MLAs on par with them. In the aftermath of the court's order, many have suggested that it signals a great clean-up of democracy. That optimism may be naive and somewhat premature.
For one, the impact of the court order may turn out to be small. The data that suggests that Parliament and state assemblies are increasingly rife with "criminal elements" refers largely to members who are charged with serious crimes, rather than those convicted. This is often because the charges are flimsy, and also because securing a conviction is more daunting and arduous when cases involve the politically influential. At the same time, the Supreme Court order also appears to repose excessive faith in the lower judiciary. Subordinate courts, which examine the facts of the case, produce judgments that are often overturned by appeals, and matters of precedent have to be settled over and over again by higher courts. Letting a legislator's immediate career depend on the order of the lower courts could potentially introduce greater arbitrariness and unfairness into the system. To be sure, the Supreme Court is only making an effort to check the creep of criminality in our legislatures. But there are limits to the judiciary's interventions to set democracy right.