It is amply clear convicted politicians use real or imagined ailments as an excuse to defeat the ends of justice.
Once a VIP, always a VIP. Large sections of India’s political class live a life of ill-gotten wealth and undeserved privilege, whether they are in power or not. In the unlikely event of their getting convicted for corruption, they carry their VIP status with them to prison. Last week, the Supreme Court did well to denounce the practice of appellate courts suspending the sentence of VIP convicts on grounds of their health while the appeals of several ordinary convicts against death sentences are still in queue. All prisoners, including convicts, are entitled to medical treatment; but often, such appeals on health grounds are only a backdoor attempt at delaying the serving of a sentence. In the present case, former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, who was convicted in the teachers’ recruitment scam case earlier this year, was referred by the Delhi High Court to a medical board of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The board, however, found no need to keep him in the hospital. When the High Court, after having shown extraordinary concern for the leader’s health, directed him to surrender by September 17, Mr. Chautala chose to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, one of the judges had a poser for the VIP politician: “If you come back to power, will you say I don’t want power citing these ailments?” It is amply clear convicted politicians use real or imagined ailments as an excuse to defeat the ends of justice. All that a prisoner can ask for is proper medical assistance in jail, and not permission to serve time in hospital.
Of course, Mr. Chautala is not the first VIP to take recourse to such devices to stay out of jail. Not only VIP convicts, even undertrials and those under arrest for criminal offences feign illness to avoid jail time. If they belong to a party that is ruling the State at the time, then the police too cooperate. In Tamil Nadu, in the 1990s, AIADMK politicians and members of the Sasikala family, considered close to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, when they were being investigated by Central agencies, preferred the confines of a hospital to the restrictions of a prison cell. More recently, Ramalinga Raju, former chairman of Satyam Computers who is an accused in the multi-crore accounting fraud, used his illness as a reason to stay in hospital till he got bail. Strangely, all of this is in sharp contrast to the ill-treatment of ordinary undertrials and convicts in prisons. Death in custody, whether due to torture or natural causes, is common in India’s prisons. The malaise is systemic, and can only be remedied through strict monitoring of VIP cases by the higher courts.