Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said that almost half of the members of Lok Sabha have "criminal cases pending against them". The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has objected to this statement and summoned Singapore Envoy to India Simon Wong.

Loong mentioned India while saying that the founding fathers of current democracies will not be able to recognise the governments in their own nations. "Nehru's India has become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them, including charges of rape and murder. Though it is also said that many of these allegations are politically motivated," said Loong as part of his speech on the debate on the Report of the Committee of Privileges on February 15, 2022.

The MEA, reportedly, said this statement was "uncalled for". "The remarks by the Prime Minister of Singapore were uncalled for. We are taking up the matter with the Singaporean side," government sources were quoted as saying by NDTV.

Although a study of affidavits filed by Lok Sabha MPs to the Election Commission of India (ECI) during the 2019 elections aligns with the Singaporean PM's claim. FactChecker also found mentions of such cases in the Supreme Court.

43% Lok Sabha MPs Have Criminal Cases Against Them

The number of Lok Sabha MPs with criminal records has increased over the years. In 2019, 233 of the 539 elected Lok Sabha MPs, or 43%, had declared that they had at least one criminal case against them, found Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) on analysing their records.

In 2014, 34% of elected MPs in the Lok Sabha, or 185 out of 542, had criminal charges against them and in 2009, this number was 30% (162 of 543). There is an increase of 44% in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009, showed the report, which has data collated by ADR and the National Election Watch.

While the sanctioned strength of the Lok Sabha is 542, three members' data was not included in the 2019 ADR report "due to the unavailability of their clear and complete affidavits on the ECI website".

Of the 233 MPs with at least one criminal case against them, 159 or 29% of all Lok Sabha MPs had declared serious criminal charges. In 2014, this number stood at 112, and it was 76 in 2009.

ADR's definition of serious cases include:

1. Offence for which maximum punishment is of 5 years or more.

2. If an offence is non-bailable

3. If it is an electoral offence

4. Offence related to loss to exchequer

5. Offences that are assault, murder, kidnap, rape related

6. Offences that are mentioned in Representation of the People Act (Section 8)

7. Offences under Prevention of Corruption Act

8. Crimes against women

Most MPs with Criminal Charges from BJP

Most of the MPs with criminal charges who were voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections were from the Bharatiya Janata Party — 116 or 49.78%. And, 87 of these were facing serious criminal charges. As many as 29 or 12% of the LS Election winners with criminal cases in 2019 were from the Indian National Congress and 19 of them were facing serious criminal charges.

At least 50% of the winners from Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Bihar, Kerala, and Lakshadweep had criminal cases against them, according to the ADR report.

Central Agencies Have Long-Pending Cases

Fourteen current MPs and 37 former MPs have cases pending trials in different Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) courts, according to a report prepared by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria and advocate Sneha Kalita in August 2021. This was filed in the SC, which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) to fast-track disposal of criminal cases against current and former lawmakers.

The records submitted by the Enforcement Directorate showed that 51 MPs were booked under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The ED, in inputs to the advocates, didn't mention a breakup of incumbent or former MPs.

The report also highlighted that most of these cases against sitting and former MPs and MLAs date as far back as a decade ago, are nowhere near conclusion.

Almost 5K Cases Against MPs/MLAs Pending in HCs

In the February 2022 hearing of the same case, Hansaria told the SC that the number of pending cases filed against sitting and former lawmakers in all of India's high courts was 4,984 in December 2021. This has increased from 4,859 in October 2020 and 4,122 in December 2018.

While in the report Hansaria did not mention how many cases specify how many cases were against MPs or MLAs, he did show that 2,324 cases were against sitting legislators.

Of the 4,984 pending cases, 1,899 cases are more than five years old. "Even after disposal of 2,775 cases after 4 December, 2018, the cases against MPs/MLAs have increased from 4,122 to 4,984. This shows that more and more persons with criminal antecedents are occupying the seats in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies. It is of utmost necessity that urgent and stringent steps are taken for expeditious disposal of pending criminal cases," the report added.