If ministers indulge in corruption, government policies will suffer
Sukh Ram, Minister of State for Communications in the P. V. Narasimha Rao government, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment by a special CBI court here on Saturday in a corruption case, in which the FIR had been lodged in 1996.
Judge R.P. Pandey also imposed a fine of Rs. 4 lakh on the 84-year-old Sukh Ram, who was taken into custody and sent to the Tihar Central Jail.
On Thursday, he was convicted on the charges of taking bribe, criminal misconduct and abuse of official position, besides criminal conspiracy. Earlier he was convicted twice, in 2002 and 2009 by Delhi trial courts.
In its charge sheet, the CBI accused Mr. Sukh Ram of corruption in procuring 3.5 lakh conductor kilometres of polythene-insulated, jelly-filled cables, costing about Rs.30 crore, from Rohtak-based Haryana Telecom Limited (HTL) during 1995-1996. HTL Chairman, D.S. Choudhary was a co-accused but he died during the pendency of the trial.
On August 16, 1996, the CBI, while searching Mr. Sukh Ram's residential premises, recovered over Rs.1.16 crore in cash from bags and suitcases, including Rs.3 lakh contained in an envelope bearing Choudhary's visiting card.
“The octogenarian convict has already reaped the dividend of a long-drawn process of law and despite having been convicted in two other corruption cases, he is enjoying freedom, which is passing a wrong message to the public at large and strengthening the popular belief that one can earn money by corrupt means and enjoy its fruits …,” the judge wrote in his order.
Counsel had pleaded for leniency on the ground that his client was suffering from old-age related ailments. He had been attending the trial for over 12 years and he had also lost his wife, counsel said.
However, the CBI prosecutor described Mr. Sukh Ram as a “habitual offender” and deserved no leniency. “We should not forget that he was an MP and Minister and has betrayed the confidence of the public at large.”
Concurring with the prosecution, the court said while the convict's age was a “mitigating factor,” his previous convictions were an “aggravating circumstance” to be considered while deciding the quantum of sentence.
“The court cannot remain oblivious to the factum of shaken public confidence in the efficacy of law to deal with corruption, particularly when it is the question of tackling the corruption cases involving high-ranking public servants such as Ministers and, therefore, the court cannot afford to be excessively lenient with such convicts,” Mr. Pandey said.
Observing that Mr. Sukh Ram was a Minister and MP and hence a public servant who held a position of trust, the judge pointed out that if those with a ministerial rank indulged in corruption, policies of the government “howsoever beneficial they may be, would gravely suffer.”