Crime and punishment

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

Every effort is made by our politicians to subvert the dictum that no matter how high you are, the law is higher than you

Political interference in the workings of the Government is practised by none other than politicians themselves. The Supreme Court has held that “however high you may be, the law is above you”. In practice, however, our leadership is often condoned for bending the law to suit their narrow political and personal ends. This is particularly true in today’s era of coalitions.

Small parties are running Government Departments under their charge as their personal fiefdoms. They are absolutely sure that the major partner in the coalition on whom they are riding piggyback cannot afford to annoy them. Their interference in the day-to-day functioning of the Government is not practised with a view to improve the administration but to promote the interests of their own party. Trouble arises when the Ministers want departmental heads or other officials to bypass regulations in order to favour candidates of their own preference.

The chairman and managing director of a public sector fertiliser company had to resign from his job recently for not following the diktat of the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers. An infrequent visitor to New Delhi, the Minister had reportedly ordered the transfer of his former Secretary for not carrying out his wishes.

In a separate case, a Supreme Court bench has taken an adverse view of the conduct of the then Maharashtra Chief Minister, now a Union Minister. Earlier, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court had expressed its anguish on the interference of the same person in favour of a legislator with a criminal past.

A Jammu & Kashmir Minister has lost his job following the revelation that an imposter from Uttar Pradesh appeared for a medical college entrance examination on behalf of his daughter, Ms Huma Tabassum Saroori. In the hope that no action would be taken against him in his absence, the Minister left the country for the purpose of pilgrimage without the permission of competent authorities.

A fairly large number of politicians have a criminal record. It is the votes that they command that enables them to survive in politics. According to National Election Watch, there are 150 newly-elected MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha who have criminal cases pending against them, while nearly 300 have declared assets worth more than Rs 10 million. As many as 128 MPs with criminal cases pending against them were elected to the previous Lok Sabha. The BJP and the Congress, with 42 and 41 MPs with criminal cases respectively, lead the pack.

Politics has become a game of money. Businessmen with massive wealth are reportedly seeking entry into the Upper House of Parliament. Some have even managed to secure entry. But it is not that they have sought to do so for the purpose of working for the public good. They have done so to further their own business interests. In a sting operation conducted by a television channel, it was revealed that some MLAs in Jharkhand allegedly offered to sell their votes for Rs 50 lakh each while their leader demanded Rs 2 crore.

The number of MPs with assets of more than Rs 1 crore has increased from 156 in the last Lok Sabha to 315 in the current House. The average declared assets of MPs in the current Lok Sabha is Rs 4.5 crore.

Although the larger role of money in politics is a matter of concern, no Government is willing to bell the cat. However, this is not only a moral but also a governance issue. Anyone who spends crores to get elected would first try to get back his investment, leading to public interest occupying a back seat on his agenda.

Criminalisation has entered all walks of life. Five judges, including district and sessions judges, belonging to the State subordinate judiciary, have been suspended by the Andhra Pradesh High Court for cheating in the Master of Laws examination by sneaking notebooks and study material into the examination hall. And if this is a telling comment of the falling standards of the judiciary, the state of the police forces is no better.

In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in August this year, the Central Bureau of Investigation has described as a “sham and a farce” the investigation conducted by Delhi Police into the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that has resulted in the denial of justice to victims and shielding of the accused, among them Sajjan Kumar, a Congress leader.

“One can’t lose sight of the fact that 24 complaints were investigated in one first information report about scores of deaths, and because of sham investigations and farcical prosecutions, there has been a failure of justice for which victims are aggrieved,” the CBI has said while opposing the plea of Sajjan Kumar for quashing the charges against him. Referring to the case in which he is the key accused, the CBI has said that in FIR No 416 of 1984 registered at Delhi Cantonment Police Station, 24 complaints were investigated pertaining to 60 deaths. However, Delhi Police filed five chargesheets pertaining to five deaths. These cases ended in acquittals.

These are the awful conditions prevailing in our country, all of which are in the public domain. It appears that the problem facing the country is one of governance. It would not be wrong to suggest that in the present scenario, the rich and the mighty have been successful in bending the law to suit their selfish objectives and that the Government has the right to misrule the country.

Despite numerous commissions, committees and sub-committees instituted by the Government, there is not a single area or field of activity in which we can say with pride that we are the best in the world. Even after 63 years of independence, nobody has touched the problem of governance with a bargepole despite passing laws on every conceivable subject. We cannot brush everything under the carpet, using democracy as an excuse.

The point is how long the country should wait for the loot to end. The Government must make up its mind to improve one area of its working — be it ending corruption or bringing reforms in the police or the judiciary or the criminal justice system. It can take up issues pertaining to one subject, do what it can for a period of six months or a year, and move on to the next subject. At this rate, at least 10 subjects would have received the Government’s attention during its tenure.

The Union Home Minister has said that a changed Criminal Procedure Code in sync with today’s changed scenario would be ready in a year. At least the Government has woken up after 63 years and is considering changes in laws framed in 1863.

Meanwhile, if you have the requisite money and resources, you can go in appeal from one court or agency to another until your case is tried in the Supreme Court or you get a judgement of your choice. Politicians of the ruling party generally do not take the risk of acting to improve the existing system. But today there is as much risk involved in doing nothing as that which comes with taking concrete action.