Law catches up

Justice has caught up with former telecom minister Sukhram at last. A CBI court has convicted and sentenced him to five years in jail for taking a bribe of Rs 3 lakh for awarding a Rs 30-crore contract to a firm.

The bribe amount may seem small in the light of the mega scams that have emerged in recent years. Yet, the amount was not paltry 15 years ago when it was committed. Besides, whatever the amount, a crime was committed and Sukhram misused his power and position. Eighty-six-year-old Sukhram has pleaded for leniency on the grounds of age.

The court has rightly dismissed his plea. India’s corruption-weary citizenry can draw some satisfaction from seeing Sukhram being marched off to jail. Few would have forgotten the raid on his home many years ago that revealed several sacks stuffed with cash. Nemesis has caught up with him at last. However, it might be too early to celebrate as he is appealing the conviction. He managed to wriggle out of punishment twice earlier. Although he was convicted and sentenced for corruption in 2002 and 2009, he managed to secure bail and stayed out of jail.

At the time when Sukhram’s corruption became public, it was widely believed that the money recovered from his home was just the ‘loose change’ he had made. The whereabouts of the rest of his money was not investigated. No effort was made to recover the loot. Sukhram fully exploited and benefited from the loopholes in our criminal justice system.

Had he been convicted quickly and made to serve time 15 years ago, and the assets he built up through corruption taken away from him, the Suresh Kalmadis and A Rajas who followed his footsteps might have thought twice before looting public money. Perhaps India would have been spared the shameful scams and scandals that sullied its image and shook public confidence in the criminal justice system. 

Around 1,282 CBI cases are said to be pending trial for over 10 years in courts while 22 cases are pending trial for over 20 years. Does the CBI have a credible explanation for the glacial pace at which it investigates and delivers justice? Besides fast-tracking corruption cases, we need a system where those convicted are forced to hand over their ill-gotten wealth. Else, a fine or even a jail term is just a mild rap on the knuckles.

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