State: Is Building new India a Tall Order?
Integrity and governance wise, India is still 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 before the final verdict. Take the latest case of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK) chief and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (TN) Jayalalithaa, which was filed in 1996, and charge sheeted on June 4, 1997, but the judgement finally came on Saturday, September 27, 2014.
A special court in Bangalore hearing the Rs 66.65 crore disproportionate assets (includes 28 kilogrammes of gold, 750 pairs of shoes and more than 10,000 saris) case against Tamil Nadu chief minister and her three associates – N Sasikala, J Elavarasi and V N Sudhakaran – found all of them guilty (all of them 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)), following which Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years in jail and slapped with Rs. 100 crore fine after being found guilty of corruption. The judgement means putting her 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 upto the Higher Court to stay the sentence and conviction pending the consideration of the appeal—The bail appeal by Jayalalithaa and three other convicts in special HC bench of Justice Rathnakala lasted only five minutes and the case was adjourned to October 7.
The accused had earlier 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 TN chief minister in the assets and wealth case. By August 2000, 250 prosecution witnesses were examined, and only 10 more remained.
During her first tenure as the Chief Minister from 1991-1996, Jayalalithaa had declared that she would take only Re.1 as her salary. But according to case details, her assets grown to around 66 crore during 1996 from declared 3 crore during 1991.
The case was then delayed for 14 years. After all, the delaying of examining ten witnesses only shows how the cases can be delayed with all rights for the accused and none for the victims that is the public. One reason for the wide spread political and bureaucratic corruption is that the punishment is lenient. There should be no discretion in this matter, as Supreme Court once had said, that “All justice is Judge Centric”. Infact, 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 with the Police or CBI or any other agency, which, by using it, can get evidence all the evidence. However, before all this is done, the Government must build up investigation and judicial infrastructure, so that cases are not extended beyond one or a maximum of two years. This is vital as no innocent should be allowed to suffer, for any reason whatsoever. Otherwise, the way, some of the cases, and scams, are coming in public’s eye and incidentally their number is not even ten percent of what is actually happening, we will be going further downhill.
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Meanwhile, following the disqualification of Legislative Assembly seat due to court order, Jayalalithaa had to quit from the post of CM and her loyalist O Panneerselvam who served as the Finance Minster in her last Cabinet took oath as new CM of TN on September 29. This is the second time he is becoming CM of TN.
Joginder Singh (The writer is former Director of CBI)