Delayed justice

The good thing about the conviction of former Kerala minister R Balakrishna Pillai by the supreme court in a corruption case is that a politician has been punished for his misdeed.

Politicians are rarely made to pay a price for their misdemeanours and escape the long arm of the law in various ways. Corrupt or illegal acts often do not come to the surface; even when they do, investigations are shoddy and are undertaken to bury the issue and finally cases are scuttled by exploiting loopholes or influencing witnesses.

But the Pillai case, after going through many twists and turns, finally reached a welcome denouement with the apex court sentencing him to one year’s rigorous imprisonment and a fine. The fine of Rs 10,000 is a pittance against the loss of over Rs 2 crore he caused to the government by conspiring with a  contractor to escalate the cost of a work related to a hydro-electric project when he was irrigation minister over 25 years ago.

The bad thing about the judgment is that it took two decades for the country’s judicial system to finally punish a corrupt politician. Pillai had been found guilty by a special court in 1999 and sentenced to five years’ jail.

The high court acquitted him but the supreme court has now overturned the high court verdict. In the process the apex court also reduced the sentence to one year’s jail on the ground that the accused has undergone mental anguish in the last many years because of the prosecution proceedings. Should the mental anguish of an accused be a mitigating factor that makes him eligible for a lighter sentence? Pillai was defiant all along and still is, and did not suffer any anguish.

The long delay in bringing a guilty person to book exposes the inefficiency of the judicial process. The supreme court noted this. But in spite of many similar observations by the court in the past and declarations that steps would be taken to reduce delays, cases drag on interminably. Pillai’s co-accused in the case is in a coma for the past two years, and is sure to escape his punishment of imprisonment for one year.

Yet another matter of concern is the felicitations Pillai is receiving from his party, the Kerala Congress (B), and its alliance partners like the Congress, after the conviction. He is being made a hero and the judiciary is castigated and even shown as corrupt. What a turn!

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