Death for former MP isn’t effective justice: experts

By Rana Ajit, IANS

New Delhi : India’s first death penalty to a former MP and a former minister is just “symbolic deterrence” for criminals in politics as it isn’t a case of effective justice, coming as it does 13 years after the murder and will take another five years to reach the higher courts, say experts.

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A Patna court Wednesday sentenced to death former Lok Sabha MP and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Anand Mohan Singh, former state minister Akhlaq Ahmad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and politician Arun Kumar for the 1994 lynching of Gopalgang district magistrate G. Krishnaiah.

The order, which also gave life imprisonment to four politicians, including former Lok Sabha MP and Anand Mohan’s wife Lovely Anand, raised hopes in some circles that it would send out a message to other criminal politicians.

But electoral law experts don’t seem to share the optimism.

“This ruling will fail to curb whole-hog criminalisation of today’s politics simply because the ruling lacks the requisite ingredients – certainty, swiftness and harshness – which makes the punishment effective in criminal justice system,” said former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C. Kashyap.

“It’s only an individual case and will have only symbolic effect in ridding the body polity of criminal elements,” Kashyap told IANS.

He said the sentence by Additional District and Sessions Judge Ramshreshta Rai lacked “requisite certainty” as those convicted were sure to appeal, first before the high court and then before the Supreme Court. And whether they face the hangman’s noose eventually depends upon the rulings by the higher court.

Former principal secretary to the Election Commission S.K. Mendiratta agreed: “The murder case is already more than 13 years old. The high courts and the apex court subsequently will take at least another five years to arrive at their final decision.

“Evidently, the long-drawn process of trial deprives the punishment of its another ingredient – swiftness – to make it effective.”

Rajya Sabha MPs like eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani and former Maharashtra governor P.C. Alexander have made the point in debates in the upper house that “punishment must be certain, swift and harsh” for the criminal justice system to be effective in deterring criminals from entering into politics.

Kashyap and Mendiratta felt that unless the government amends the prevailing electoral law and bars people with dubious criminal antecedents from contesting elections, irrespective of whether they have been convicted by a court, the body polity cannot be cleansed of criminal elements.

Recalling a recommendation by a national commission to review the working of the constitution, headed by former chief justice M.N. Venkatachallaih, the two experts said the government must change the law to bar a person, held guilty in a court’s preliminary opinion at the stage of framing of charges, from entering the electoral fray.

The framing of charges by a court happens to be a mid-way stage of trial in a criminal case.