Observing that "there is no way out" for 98-year-old former Union minister Shiela Kaul, facing prosecution in a 1996 government accommodation allotment scam, a Delhi court has directed her to appear before it for framing of charges and let the trial proceed.
Relying on the opinion of an AIIMS medical board which had found Kaul as being able to understand questions put to her, Special CBI Judge Pradeep Chaddah directed Kaul to appear before it on May 23.
"It becomes clear that accused Sheila Kaul is capable of understanding questions put to her and giving appropriate answers, though the questions might have to be repeated.
"Unfortunately for her, law does not prescribe any immunity for aged people. She might be quite old but there is no way out," the court said, directing her to appear in person before it.
The court also said "her absence has caused considerable delay and is holding up the trial."
The court had on April 9 asked AIIMS director to constitute a medical board to examine Kaul, who appeared before the medical board on April 23 and was kept under observation till April 26, during which she was examined by a the board of six doctors.
Besides the report from the medical board, the medical board chairman, Dr SK Khendelwal in his statement to the court too said Kaul was "neither having unsound mind nor she was lunatic and also was not suffering from any mental retardation. She could understand simple questions put to her and at times questions had to be repeated to make her understand. Her comprehension was slow and delayed."
The court also added that "she (Kaul) may attend the court in the same manner as she visited AIIMS. She is to answer the charge to be framed against her and let the matter proceed."
Kaul, the erstwhile Union urban development minister in Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao's cabinet, is accused of conspiring with her then additional private secretary Rajan Lala and private assistant RK Sharma for making out-of-turn allotment of government accommodation for making pecuniary gains from alottees between 1992 and 1995.
The court had in February held that prima facie a case was made out against them and decided to frame charges under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act, besides for hatching criminal conspiracy under section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code.
Kaul, however, failed to appear before the court to complete the legal formality of either pleading not guilty and claiming trial or admitting the guilt. She failed to appear before the court on the plea that she is suffering from various ailments and is totally bed-ridden.