Millennium Post

When no one is above law

Be it the conviction of Lalu Prasad Yadav for five years in fodder scam case in Bihar, Chautala father son duo sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for illegally hiring more than 3,000 teachers in Haryana or Jayalalithaa’s four year Imprisonment in a 18 year old disproportionate asset case In Tamil Nadu on a complaint filed by Dr Swamy reinforces the faith of the common man in the judicial system of our country. The trail of the case went on for 18 long years and the case was transferred out of Tamil Nadu to Karnataka by an order of the Supreme Court.

It also demonstrates that no one is above law how high she or he may be and also the zero tolerance level of the judiciary when it comes to corruption in high places. The judiciary has acted tough and has handed out harsh punishment to the corrupt politicians sending out strong signals that once again establishes the rule of law in the most affirmative manner. The political parties were circumspect in commenting on Jayalalithaa conviction.  Congress guarded response stated that it respects the judicial process and it is now up to the AIADMK to give an appropriate response. ‘India has a rule of law and the courts take cognizance of all matters which is required to be looked into. As political parties we respect the judiciary and decisions,’ Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said. However, he said one will have to bear in mind that the processes have to be completed.

Last year the Apex court in Lily Thomas Versus Union of India & Ors has already held on 10th July 2013 that charge sheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadhaya struck down as unconstitutional Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act that allows convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing appeal to the higher court and to get a stay of the conviction and sentence. The Bench, however, made it clear that the ruling will be prospective and those who had already filed appeals in various High Courts or the Supreme Court against their convictions would be exempt from it.

In the Representation of the People Act, 1951 Section 7 of the Act defines the word ‘disqualified’ to mean disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament or of the Legislative Assembly or of Legislative Council of State.  Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 defines disqualification on conviction for certain offences as a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years [other than any offence referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2)] shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi promised to fast-track cases against elected political leaders. ‘Just give me one chance to clean the system, I will set up special courts under the supervision of the supreme court to try all the tainted MPs and MLAs, that too within one-year time limit. After one year, those who are guilty will go to jail.’

Now, each of the 24 high courts in the country will have a special cell dedicated to monitor trials against MPs/MLAs and ensure that they are completed within a year of registration of the case.  The detailed guidelines to be communicated by the Centre to states and all high courts soon provide that if investigation against accused lawmakers is delayed or unnecessary adjournments are granted by a session’s court, the district judge may be authorized to initiate action against the guilty. Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has done well to write to the Chief Justices of High Courts that they should monitor cases against MPs and MLAs against whom charges have been framed for offences specified in Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act.  Given the vast number of such cases pending in our courts, the speeding up of trials will enhance the reputation of the judiciary in the people’s eyes. If verdicts in the cases are out soon, political parties will also be able to decide on the candidates to field in elections.

Jayalalithaa became the first incumbent chief minister of India to be convicted while holding office. This necessarily does not mean that politicians are not corrupt while holding office, but it goes on to reflect the shoddy investigation on allegations of corruption as well as poor prosecution when it comes to the capability, ability and honesty of the public prosecutors. Time and again the best of the legal luminaries are hired at the most expensive price by the accused and the state is left to be defended in the hands of prosecutors who are again mostly political appointments with least legal acumen as well as legal experience.

The author is an advocate

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