Just punishment

Just punishment

The conviction of former Haryana chief minister and INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala and his son, along with many others including senior officials, in a teacher recruitment scandal is remarkable because politicians and top officials are rarely punished for their crimes.

The 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment awarded by a special CBI court is perhaps the harshest punishment a senior politician has been slapped with in a corruption case.

This is not the last word of law and Chautala and other convicted persons are sure to try to evade punishment in various ways, including filing an appeal in a higher court. But for the time being the law has won and in spite of all the criticism that the CBI was misused to harass an opposition politician, the people will only take heart that at least one act of corruption has been accounted for.

If the conviction is upheld by higher courts it might virtually end the political career of the Chautalas,  as they will be debarred from contesting elections for the next six years. The Representation of People Act provides for such disqualification in the event of the conviction of a person and award of a prison term of more than two years. But the Act allows a convicted person to continue in his elected legislative position if he files an appeal.

This provision calls for a review, as an initial conviction should be good enough reason for disqualification. It is likely that the appeal will take many years to be decided and the convicted legislator will be able to evade punishment. Even the present case took over 12 years to be settled in the court as the scam took place in 2000.  While the judgment is welcome, it again underlines the slow pace of the justice system, which is exploited by the mighty and the powerful.

The erstwhile director of primary education of Haryana, Sanjiv Kumar, was also convicted by the court. It was Kumar who actually exposed the scam and the court considered him to be a whistle blower. But his testimony was not totally acceptable to the court and the judge even remarked that it was troubling to convict the officer. The court also observed that there was no whistleblowers’ protection law now. The bill, which is pending in Parliament, should be expedited.