Being politically influential does not give you any immunity from the law. This was the message in a Delhi court’s verdict sentencing five-time Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, his MLA son Ajay Chautala and eight others to 10 years in prison in a teachers’ recruitment scam. The verdict by special CBI court judge Vinod Kumar is a landmark one in many ways. It’s for the first time that a senior politician has been given such a harsh sentence in a corruption case.
Second, it virtually writes off the political career of the father-son duo as they may be disqualified to contest any polls for the next 16 years, courtesy Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act that makes any convict ineligible to enter the poll fray if the jail term given to him/her is two years or more. Haryana is due for assembly polls in October 2014 while the Lok Sabha elections are to be held early next year. But ironically, they will continue to remain MLAs thanks to Section 8(4) of the Act that allows an MLA/MP to continue if he chooses to file an appeal against the conviction within three months. This needs to change. The case also underlines the long-felt need to have a proper law to protect whistleblowers. The special court, which held IAS officer Sanjiv Kumar to be a whistleblower, was forced to award him the same punishm-ent for want of any law to protect those who risk their lives to exp-ose corruption in public life. Sending such a person to jail will send the wrong message that a whistleblower is not appreciated by the law. Rather, he is subjected to trials and tribulations. But, unfortunately, the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2011 is still pending in Parliament. The situation needs to change at the earliest.
Notwithstanding the punishment handed down to the high and mighty, the case also raises certain serious questions about the way our criminal justice system works. The scam took place in 2000 and the whole process of investigation and trial has taken more than 12 years to reach its logical conclusion. Despite the Chief Justice of India writing to all high courts in December 2010 to fast track graft cases against public servants, nothing seems to have changed. In the recent past there have been hundreds of protests and candle light marches against corruption and scams across the country. But a swift trial resulting in suitable punishment is much more effective in cleaning up the system and restoring faith in it.