A Special CBI Court here on Saturday sentenced the former BJP president, Bangaru Laxman, who has been convicted of corruption charges, to four-year rigorous imprisonment. It also imposed a fine of Rs.1 lakh on him.
On Friday, he was held guilty of accepting money, to facilitate government contracts, from Tehelka journalists posing as arms dealers. They filmed him in a sting operation in 2001, causing an uproar and considerable embarrassment to the then NDA government, forcing Mr. Laxman to resign.
In his order, Special Judge Kanwal Jeet Arora said: “The sab chalta hai [everything goes] syndrome has led to the present situation where nothing moves without an illegal consideration.”
The judge also opined that corruption was worse than prostitution, as the “latter might endanger the morals of an individual, whereas the former invariably endangers the entire society. It is virulent for the nation and makes people full of ire. However, the problem is that when a society publicly rues corruption, but privately indulges in it, we need to ask ourselves, do we really want a corruption-free society?”
Mr. Arora said Mr. Laxman had agreed to compromise the security and safety of the nation with a company, Westend International, which approached him for securing an order for supplying the Army with defence-related equipment. “The convict agreed to compromise with the lives of lakhs of soldiers who, without fearing for their lives, fight for the nation. He agreed to extend his influence for getting a supply order in their favour with respect to defence-related equipment for his personal gains, without giving a thought that the equipment of this company may or may not be of sub-standard quality.”
Mr. Laxman pleaded for leniency on medical grounds, claiming he was a heart patient and had undergone a coronary bypass surgery. The judge also disagreed with defence counsel's plea for a lighter punishment in view of the company and the product the journalists peddled being fictitious, and hence no “possible wrong” was committed by the convict.
“No doubt, the company, Westend International, and the product, HHTIs [Hand-held Thermal Imagers], which they were promoting were both fictitious, but this fact was only known to the representatives of the company, who had approached the convict for favour. Convict Bangaru Laxman had agreed to exert his personal influence in favour of the fictitious company for his personal gains by way of getting ‘illegal gratification' with the intention and belief that the product for which a supply order is required is genuine.”
Mr. Arora further said Mr. Laxman, who was the leader of a political party, was expected to lead by example. “Considering the gravity and the impact which his influence would have had on the lives of the soldiers of the Indian Army, had the design of convict materialised, I am of the opinion that there are no mitigating circumstances, and he does not deserve the leniency sought for him…He, being president of a political party, was supposed to have shown exemplary character to lead by example. But that was not to be. Therefore, the result of the path chosen by him should be such,” that it would deter others from taking the same path.
Mr. Arora noted that Section 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, under which Mr. Laxman was charged, and Section 163 of the Indian Penal Code related to taking of bribe, but both differed in punishment, with the IPC providing for just one-year simple imprisonment.
The Judge wrote: “Parliament must have had good reasons to enhance the punishment [in the Prevention of Corruption Act] to a minimum imprisonment of six months and a maximum… [of] five years, with liability to pay fine as well. Obviously, cognisance has been taken of a widespread prevalence of [the] practice of exertion of personal influence on public servants by people acting to favour third party, from whom they have obtained ‘illegal gratification'…People are forced to pay for getting even the ‘right things done at right time.' It is high time to shun this attitude.”