Friday, March 29, 2013

Om Prakash Chautala, son sentenced to 10 years in jail

Om Prakash Chautala, son sentenced to 10 years in jail

NEW DELHI: Former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala were on Tuesday sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment for illegally recruiting over 3,000 junior basic trained (JBT) teachers 12 years ago, with a Special CBI court brushing aside their plea for leniency on the ground that the case had hurt their politics and diminished them in public eye.

As thousands of supporters of the INLD chief clashed with the Delhi Police outside his court exploding even a crude political bomb, the Special CBI Judge Vinod Kumar held that the "enormity" of the offence of the father-son duo was enhanced by the "brazenness" with which they resorted to illegal rights, depriving the eligible candidates of their constitutional rights.

In all, the Special Judge sentenced 55 convicts, including two IAS officers, to varying jail terms. Besides the Chautalas, the court awarded 10 years jail term to eight others, including a woman and two IAS officers — Vidya Dhar who was Chautala's Officer on Special Duty and Sanjiv Kumar, the then director of primary education, who had claimed to be the whistleblower in the case. Sher Singh Badshami, who like the Chautalas is a sitting MLA and had worked as the ex-Haryana CM's political advisor, was also given 10 years.

The judgment bracketed Chautala with Jayalalithaa and Shibu Soren, the two other former CMs who have been convicted for alleged irregularities.

During arguments on sentencing Chautala had pleaded for leniency on the ground of failing health as he is a diabetic, and has 70% disability in his right leg besides suffering from various other ailments. Chautala's counsel also claimed that he had clean antecedents. Stressing that Chautala had been the CM of Haryana for five terms, the counsel argued "if he would have committed anything wrong, public would not have voted for him".

Completely unimpressed by the submission, the Special Judge said, "I find no reason not to believe the aforesaid submissions of the counsel for the convicts. However, these aspects are not relevant to the question of the quantum of sentence. The relevant points for considering the sentence are the circumstances attending the offence."

He, however, allowed for leniency for those who acted under pressure.

Out of power for eight years now, the Chautalas would lord over Haryana. In fact, Chautala had acquired leverage on decision-making even far beyond the boundaries of his tiny state after his doting father 'Tau' Devi Lal rode on his image as a tallest farmers' leader to become the deputy Prime Minister in the Janata Dal government in 1989. When Devi Lal moved to the Centre, Chautala controlled Haryana before losing the next polls. Although controversies forced him to resign, he would retain his vice-like grip through proxies before taking the charge himself. In the process, he became the Chief Minister five times.

Congress cited his alleged move to keep tabs on political moves of Rajiv Gandhi to bring down the Chandrashekhar government in 1991 leading to the mid-term polls and the appointment of Manmohan Singh as the finance minister: a development that unleashed economic liberalization.

Those familiar with what is called the "rough-and-ready" ways of the Chautalas would not have been puzzled by the Judge's reference to brazenness about them. Justifying his sentence: "Considering the enormity of the offences and the manner in which politician bureaucrat nexus has resulted in depriving such a large number of candidates of their constitutional rights, I do not find any reason for leniency in sentencing those convicts who were master-minding the entire conspiracy or assisting them in execution of the same."

The court's order can have repercussions for the political career of the five-time former CM, though the fact that they are sitting MLAs would protect them from the law designed to bar those convicted from contesting elections. Under the Representation of the People Act, a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to more than two years imprisonment shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and for a further period of six years after his release. However, this does not apply in case of sitting members of legislatures if they decide to challenge their convictions within three moths in High Court. An appeal in High Court will result in the suspension of conviction until the appeal is dismissed by the High Court.

Others who were given 10-year jail term are Madan Lal Kalra, Durga Dutt Pradhan, Bani Singh, Ram Singh and Daya Saini. Apart from them, one convict has been handed five years and the rest 45 were given four years imprisonment.

The court also imposed a fine of Rs 2,000 on Chautala and Sanjiv Kumar, Rs 1,000 on Ajay Chautala, Vidhya Dhar and Sher Singh, and Rs 1,200 on the other five sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. A fine of Rs 400 was imposed by the court on the remaining 45 convicts, including 16 women.

The sentence was pronounced in a jam-packed room with 55 convicts, their lawyers, family members, cops present even as the court ordered all the persons not related to the case to vacate the courtroom. While senior Chautala was not present in the court because of his hospitalization after being taken into custody last week, his son and all the other convicts were present in the court.

All the accused were convicted on January 16 under section 120B (criminal conspiracy), 418 (cheating), 467(forgery), 471 (using forged documents as genuine) of the IPC and sections 13(1)(d) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act in the case relating to illegal recruitment of 3,206 junior basic trained (JBT) teachers.

In its 34-page order, the court said that the enormity of the offences could be seen from the fact that the conspiracy took in its sweep almost all the districts of Haryana. "The gravity of the offence further enhances in view of the reason that the brazenness with which the sacrosanct constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity in the matters of public employment to each citizen has been violated," it added.

The other convicts, who sought leniency on the grounds that their role was smaller compared to the entire conspiracy, also could not impress the judge who said, "It does not matter whether you are in the center of it or in the corner of it. Hence, your culpability and liability is same as the main conspirators. It is like a person planning a terrorist act and the person executing it. Both deserve the sentence."

The judge, however, agreed with the pleas of the convict who had admitted in the court that they had acted under severe pressure and must, therefore, be treated leniently. "I agree that the convicts who had acted under severe pressure must be treated leniently," the court said as it handed down four-year imprisonment to 44 convicts and a five-year jail term to another.

"These convicts had been truthful during the trial. They were aware that they had committed a serious mistake in their life but their conscience did not permit them to speak falsehood before the court. Their moral values shone like a guiding lamp for them.

Earlier in the morning, much before the court was to pronounce the sentence, hundreds of INLD supporters clashed with police which used batons and teargas to stop them outside the complex where barricades were set up to prevent them from entering. The crowd remained outside the court complex till late afternoon and only dispersed after the convicts were taken back to Tihar Jail.

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