Delayed justice and its cost: Lessons from Lalu’s fodder scam
The real icing will only come when the loss to the state, that is the Rs. 37.7 crores in question is realised from the convicted.
By Ajit Joy
17 years after registration of the case, a guilty verdict and jail sentence has been pronounced against Lalu Yadav and dozens of others. Conviction by the court proves the charge beyond reasonable doubt - of serious offences such as embezzlement of state money, corruption and fraud.
The findings lay bare the truth that Lalu Yadav betrayed the trust placed on him by the electorate and that he had blatantly undermined the law, the oath of office of Chief Minister and the Constitution. Finally, justice has been rendered; we must rejoice in that.
Nevertheless, the delay of 17 long years in the making of the judgement has cost us dearly.
Lalu continued to be MLA, MP and Union Minister for all these years. A person who could have been convicted of the serious charges stayed on at the helm of public affairs enjoying all the powers and privileges of office.
As member of the Union Cabinet he dealt with sensitive security and financial issues concerning the nation. Needless to say, he blatantly used all the influence as minister and leader of a party supporting the central government to subvert the cases registered against him.
Had he been convicted and sent to jail earlier he would never have been a minister. Thus the nation had to bear a tainted man, a convict in waiting, as people’s representative and minister simply because of our lengthy judicial process.
This raises an important question of all the decisions he took as minister in the interim. Are they valid?
But that is another debate by itself. The sad fact however is that in 17 years only the decision from the court of first instance is out. There still lies the opportunity for Lalu to appeal to the High Court, Supreme Court and then the chance for applying for pardon before the Governor of the State and the President. Indian judicial process seems like one unending string of opportunities to delay and further delay closure in any case.
In terms of literal costs too, long years costs an awful lot of money. The CBI officers for investigation, hire of offices and staff, travel, setting up of courts, appointment of special judges and prosecutors, interim petitions to higher courts and the time spent on them. All this if quantified might surely have in the 17 years exceeded the amount of corruption of Rs. 37.7 crores involved in this particular case.
Of course justice is not cheap and in pursuit of such cases, no expense should be spared. But one needs to carry out an analysis of the cost of administering justice in a poor country like ours and how this can be reduced by cutting down the delay causing flak in the system.
Fortunately good sense has prevailed on the decision makers at the last minute to let the proposed Ordinance - that gave an opportunity for convicted representatives to continue in their position during pendency of their appeal after conviction – to lapse. After this sentencing, it appears almost certain that Lalu would be disqualified from holding the position of a MP. He would also be barred from fighting elections in the near future. This is real cornering from all sides and must be welcome. A true lesson in deterrence for other Lalu’s in the making.
The real icing will only come when the loss to the state, that is the Rs. 37.7 crores in question is realised from the convicted. We need to see how this will be done. The corrupt should not under any cost enjoy the fruits of their corruption.
(The writer formerly worked in Indian Police Service in Bihar and as a lawyer in the Supreme Court)
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