So Lalu Prasad Yadav, darling of the UPA and the long-time leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal has finally been jailed after 17 long years. Never mind the time lost. Justice has been done and been seen to be done, though for a convict he is supposed to be living a life of high luxury in Tihar Jail with the availability of every luxury facility available.
Now that he is in jail, what about other like him? Has anyone thought of Mayawati? A study carried out by the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW) has revealed that a total of 11,063 (18 per cent) out of 62,847 candidates who have contested the Parliamentary or State Assembly elections since 2004 have declared criminal cases against them. Besides 5,235 (8 per cent) out of the 11,063 candidates analysed have declared ‘serious criminal cases’ against them. What is just as bad, if not worse, 162 (30 per cent) out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs had declared criminal cases against them and 76 (14 per cent) of the current Lok Sabha MPs have declared “serious criminal cases” against them. What is just as significant is that the average assets of all candidates (62,847) analysed since 2004 were found to be Rs 1.37 crore. The average assets of all MPs/MLAs (8,790) analysed since 2004 was Rs 3.84 crore. And it is even more shocking to know that a total of 1,258 (31 per cent) out of the 4,032 sitting MLAs from all State Assemblies have declared criminal cases against them. Obviously, these people have only been charged, but have not yet been tried. And it is unlikely that, like Lalu Prasad they will be tried before the terms of the Assemblies and Lok Sabha end. After that, because of money power, they may even run for elections for another term, scot free.
But all political parties must be warned not to give tickets to any of those charged any longer.
Every party must stick to this general rule, no matter how much pressure they get subjected to and by whosever. One must remember the Reddeys of Karnataka. Pressure invariably comes from rich families which think it is the birthright of one among them to get elected to bodies such as the Assembly or the Parliament.
The point often made by apologetic parties is that in a democracy no person is guilty until it is proved in a Court of Law. Our politicians know that only too well and are not averse to using it as a good point to argue their case. And they also know that it will take years for a Court to decide their cases, so they can conveniently stand for election, make more money than they have spent and literally get away with charges.
But how come justice is delayed when the saying goes that justice delayed is justice denied? The truth of the matter is that there are not enough courts in India to deliver justice. According to a detailed estimate done by the National Litigation Policy (NLP) released in 2010, there were by 2010, as many as 54,864 cases pending in the Supreme Court, 4,060,709 pending in the High Courts and 27,275,953 cases pending in the lower courts with the backlog increasing at an average rate of 3.4 per cent annually! But why are there so many cases pending? The answer is simple. There are not enough candidates willing to be judges because of the low salary offered. It is hard to believe the time was when the salary of a Chief Justice was a measly Rs 33,000 pm which is today the salary of an assistant professor! Because of the Sixth Pay Commission it has reportedly gone up to Rs 1 lakh but that, too, in today’s world, when an IIT graduate gets that much unasked, is low. What would be sensible is a Rs 2 lakh payment. There have been nearly 30 per cent vacancies in the High Courts for the past three years. Lower Courts have a 16 per cent vacancy. But even if these vacancies are filled justice will still be delayed because we want many, many, many more courts.
In India there are only 10 judges of every million people whereas the United States and Britain have around 150 judges per million population. Are we to believe that Indians are more law abiding? It may come as something scary but US crime statistics are scary: one in 100 citizens is in jail – the largest prison population in the world.
In India cases can easily be solved if (a) more courts are set up (b) the time for court sittings is increased say, by 30 per cent (c) fast track courts are set up (d) set up of evening courts going on from 6 pm to 10 pm and (e) gram nyayalayas are established to improve justice to the marginalised. Besides, why not employ judges, magistrates et al who are retired and may genuinely want to help and whose expertise cannot be challenged? At the village level why can’t elders be made to deliver judgements on minor charges? At that level even practising lawyers might be found useful.
India is embarking on a new era, following Lalu Prasad’s incarceration. The word must go that the public seeks ethics, and power is no longer a pursuable and purchasable commodity.