Sunday, December 4th, 2022 14:04:39

Conviction Of Jayalalithaa Is It A Tall Order?

Updated: October 15, 2014 2:26 pm

At one time I used to be a movie buff and would get emotional on touching scenes, songs and dialogues. One of my favourite Movies, was and is “Do Ankhey Bara Hath” and particularly the song, “aye malik tere bandey hum”. The song exhorts the singers and others to do good deeds for India. A friend sent me the song, but with different connotation. It asks God, as to faults or sins, or deeds, common Indian have committed for His having the country, the largest number of corrupt, dishonest leaders and politicians. It begs the Almighty to reduce if not altogether eliminate such people.

Integrity and governance wise, we are at the bottom—conviction and finalisation of the cases takes decades, with the possibility of either the victims, or the witnesses or the accused finishing their tenure on this earth. Take the latest case of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, which was filed in 1996, and charge-sheeted on June 04, 1997, but the judgement came on September 27, 2014. A special court in Bengaluru hearing the 66.65-crore disproportionate assets case against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and her three associates—N Sasikala, J Elavarasi and V N Sudhakaran—found all of them guilty of all the three charges against them. Jayalalithaa and others were convicted for offences punishable under Section 120(B) of the IPC (criminal conspiracy), 13(1) of the Prevention Corruption Act (criminal misconduct by public servants) and 109 (abetment). Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years in jail and slapped with Rs. 100 crore fine after being found guilty of corruption.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court had transferred the case to a special court in 2003 on a petition filed by an DMK leader, opposed to AIDMK as well as the then Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy. They had expressed doubts over conduct of fair trial in Tamil Nadu.

The judgement means that she will be out of the electoral arena for 10 years. According to provisions of the Representation of the People Act, a convicted person cannot contest elections for six years beginning from the date of completion of sentence. However, it is up to the higher court to stay the sentence and conviction pending the consideration of the appeal. The accused have already decided to go in appeal against their conviction. The accused had challenged the case with three writ petitions, but on October 1, 1997: Madras High Court dismissed the same, including one challenging sanction granted by then Governor of the State for prosecuting in the Assets and wealth case. By August 2000, 250 prosecution witnesses examined, only 10 more remained.

The above delay for 14 years, after all, but ten witnesses were examined, only shows how the cases can be delayed with all rights for the accused and none for the victims that is the public. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is not the only one to be convicted or go behind the bar. There are others in her distinguished company like the CMs of Haryana, J&K, Bihar and Jharkhand. There is a legion of the one time central ministers in the same category, two of them being of telecommunication, one of railways, one in CWG Scam, a former late Prime Minister as well as Union Home Minister. A number of tainted people also occupied gubernatorial offices.

One reason for the wide spread political and bureaucratic corruption is that the punishment is lenient. Punishment has to be deterrent, including the death sentence and not less than life imprisonment as well as confiscation of the ill acquired property through dubious means. There should be no discretion in this matter, as the Supreme Court once had said, that “All justice is judge centric”.

15-10-2014In fact, the law should be reversed, like it is, in France to put the onus, on the accused to prove, that whatever property he or she has, is not disproportionate to his or known means of income. It is sheer lunacy to expect a public man to go to the court for years together to depose against the politicians in power. There is no magic wand with the police or CBI or any other agency, which, by using it, they can get all the evidence.

The following statement by a judicial officer confirmed from time to time, by the Supreme Court should be enough for the Government to wake up:

“The biggest single hurdle which inhibits the citizen from coming forward to help the police is the deplorable conditions, prevailing in the courts of law. The lot of witnesses, appearing on behalf of state against a criminal, is certainly pitiable. More often than not, the case in which he is to appear is adjourned, on one pretext or the other…”

When ultimately the evidence is recorded, the witness is browbeaten by an over-zealous defence counsel or declared hostile or unreliable by the prosecution. It is a wonder of wonder, that despite these handicaps, we have bold citizens who are willing to depose, at the cost of their life and property. If India is to end corruption, there should be normally death sentence for corruption or in exceptional cases, imprisonment till the end of their life. All the properties of the corrupt including the bank balance and benami in the name of the others should be confiscated. More than that, not more than a total of three to five appeals should be allowed, whether to the higher courts or for reconsideration. Besides in all cases, people beyond a certain level of income say more than five lakhs, should be made to pay for the duration of their stay in jail. There is no rationale behind using tax payers money to sustain them in jail. Why should a common tax payer should be asked to pay for the free boarding and lodging of the criminals in the jail. However, before all this is done, the government must build up investigation and judicial infrastructure, so that no case is allowed to go beyond one or a maximum of two years. This is vital as no innocent should be allowed to suffer, for any reason whatsoever. This might appear to be a tall order and an idea, whose time is still to come. But it is worth trying, if the government has the will to do it, to tackle the menace of corruption.

If you watch closely, history repeats itself. India expects its rulers and leaders, including bureaucrats, to be role models of integrity and honesty and not as bandicoots and robbers, who work for personal gain. Otherwise, the way some of the cases and scams are coming within the public and incidentally their number is not even 10 per cent of what is actually happening, we will be going further downhill. As per the Transparency International, An International Corruption watchdog, India has only 34 marks out of 100 in the world in corruption.

By Joginder Singh

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