The judgements pronounced by the Special Sessions Court — for the trial of MPs, MLAs at Nampally in Hyderabad in 16 cases related to electioneering — brought relief to 15 elected representatives, including Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and Telangana ministers such as N Malla Reddy and Satyavati Rathore.
The fact that as many as 15 cases against politicians have had no outcome for years comes as no surprise to advocates but, at the same time, highlights the system of weak investigations.
Out of the 16 cases that were settled, the accused in nine cases were discharged of charges (much before the commencement of the trial) and in six cases, the accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
In one case of AIMIM legislator Jaffer Hussain (from Nampally in Hyderabad), for instance, the court found that the key witnesses turned hostile. “Burden heavily lies on prosecution to bring home guilt of the accused. First and second witnesses are police constables and eye witnesses to the alleged incident. Third witness is the de facto complainant and was the sub-inspector then. An independent eyewitness (4th) and one of the panch (inquest) witnesses (5th) turned hostile without supporting the case of prosecution”, the judgement pointed out.
The electioneering cases are booked under various Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections and relevant sections of the model code of conduct (MCC), besides other relevant Acts.
The court gave the Kodad police in Nalgonda district permission to withdraw cases against YS Jagan, following the submission that it lacked evidence against the YSR Congress Party chief. When the case was booked, the charge was that he had led a rally without permission from the authorities.
The advocates present in the court at the time of hearing on the withdrawal petition remember the judge questioning the block development officer (referred to as MPDO in Telangana) about his reaction. The case was registered based on the MPDO’s complaint that Jagan had led a rally without permission.
“The official was taken aback but, informed the court that he was in agreement with the police to withdraw the case”, an advocate tells The Federal.
“The police should not have registered a case at all, if there was nothing concrete in their allegations. Had the police taken the investigation seriously, they would have proved the charges mentioned in the first information report (FIR No. 146 of 2014) registered at Kodada police station under IPC sections 188 (disobedience to order promulgated by a public servant), 341 (wrongful restraint) and the other sections and the accused politician would have got convicted, resulting in the disqualification from contesting for at least one term”, said the advocate.
In majority of the cases booked against the politicians during electioneering, government officials were the complainants and they subsequently turned hostile or took the investigation lightly.
Senior advocate Jandhyala Ravi Shankar, who had dealt with poll code violation cases against high profile personalities such as then Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (2009) and then Assembly Speaker Nadella Manohar (now Jana Sena Party political affairs chief), tells The Federal, “The near zero conviction rate and the large number of acquittals in election code violation cases reflect the toothlessness of the Election Commission. If a contesting candidate is charged with violating the set of rules and finally is freed of the charges, it is nothing but a farce.” He says the police should not register FIRs at all if they don’t have evidence.
Jandhyala also expressed surprise over political rivals keeping quiet, when their opponents get away with no punishments in electioneering offences.