Thursday, November 29, 2012

Akhilesh's game changer

While the UPA government flashes cash subsidy as a "game changer", Akhilesh Yadav has gone one step better and decided to withdraw prosecution proceedings in several criminal cases in which the accused belong to the minority community and are charged with the same category of offences, viz., terrorist acts.

 In a manner of speaking, Akhilesh Yadav is not on weak ground. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides vide Section 321 that the Public Prosecutor in charge of a case may, with the consent of the Court, withdraw from the prosecution of any person at any time before the judgment is pronounced. This provision is taken recourse to by the Central and State governments in many different types of cases. In UP itself, in the recent past, prosecution proceedings have been withdrawn against Sanjay Dutt, actor, in the cases which were registered in respect of his allegedly offensive remarks against the Mayawati government. Prosecution proceedings have also been withdrawn in several criminal cases that were lodged against farmers during the protests over land acquisition-related issues in Tappal in 2010. 

It is also a well documented fact that in many of the criminal cases involving charges of terrorist activities, the accused are acquitted after several years of incarceration. A group of teachers at Jamia Milia Islamia University has put together a compilation of 16 such cases between 1992 and 2008 that failed to hold up in court. All these cases involve youths arrested and described as terrorists, some of whom languished in jail for years before courts acquitted them, citing lack of evidence or possible tampering of evidence.

So, the action proposed by Akhilesh Yadav is neither illegal nor implausible. What makes one react so sharply, perhaps, vehemently in opposition to the proposal are the following facts:

1. While the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for the Public Prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution of a person, with the consent of the Court, and therefore appears to have adequate checks and balances against the abuse of such a provision by the Executive, the ground reality is that the Public Prosecutor is appointed by the government and rarely contradicts or opposes the wishes of the government. It is therefore likely that a government which has made up its mind will experience no resistance from the Public Prosecutor, no matter what the merits of the case.

2. A single terrorist set free could be instrumental in the deaths/loss of limb/injuries of countless innocent Indians. Will Akhilesh Yadav then step forward, assume responsibility and make good the loss of lives?

3. It is not from the minority community alone that innocent people are being arrested and jailed for years only to be set free subsequently by the courts. This is the fate that befalls many for the simple reason that our investigating agencies adopt short cuts, are used by political bosses to achieve short term political gains, still carry the colonial legacy and therefore view the ordinary citizen as a lesser being deserving indifference at best and exploitation at the worst, and do not, in any case, possess either the skills or the equipment or the will to make proper investigations and collect infallible evidence. That being the case, should we immediately review each and every criminal case pending in the courts to decide whether it merits withdrawal?

4. There are, at present, approximately 2.5 lakh undertrials in India's 1500 prisons. Of these, roughly 70 % or nearly 1.7 lakh have been booked for petty offences. Many, many of them have either undergone the maximum punishment for the alleged crime or major portion thereof without conviction. If at all Akhileh Yadav wishes to ensure that the criminal justice system with its huge backlogs and innumerable deficiencies does not cause harassment to the innocent, why does he not focus on the under trials in UP and secure the release from prison of those accused of petty offences? 

No matter how strident the denials, we know that Akhilesh Yadav is motivated not so much by compassion or a passion for justice as securing/strengthening a vote bank, whatever the repercussions.This is politics of the worst kind and reinforces my conviction that it is not so much educated politicians that we need as politicians with a conscience.

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