NEW DELHI (TIP): Twelve years after the illegal recruitment of 3,200-odd junior teachers in Haryana, the law caught up with former CM Om Prakash Chautala, his son Ajay Chautala and 51 others on January 16 with a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court convicting them of acts of corruption and cheating. The high profile trial ended with Chautala behind bars as judge Vinod Kumar held the 78-year-old Indian National Lok Dal leader the “main conspirator” behind the scam that grabbed nation-wide notice for its scope and brazenness. Chautala and others, including two IAS officers, were sent to Delhi’s Tihar jail.
The conviction has implications for Haryana politics as the ruling Congress government has been at the receiving end of corruption allegations over alleged illegal land allotments to influential persons. The conviction levels the playing field somewhat with a major opposition figure convicted of corrupt practices. Those sent to jail have been convicted of offences of cheating, forgery, using fake documents and conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and abuse of their official position under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The court will announce the quantum of sentence on January 22.
Commenting on the blatant manner in which the appointments were manipulated, the court noted that Chautala had called the then director of education Sanjiv Kumar to change the list of successful candidates as the government had gained a majority and did not need to accommodate the interests of MLAs from supporting parties any more. Interestingly, while Kumar was seen as a whistleblower in the scam, he was made a coaccused and has been convicted in the case. The former CM’s son, Ajay Chautala, is currently an MLA and is also facing trial in a case of disproportionate assets. In course of arguments, CBI claimed each teacher paid a bribe of Rs 3-4 lakh and that Chautala, who held the education portfolio at the time of the scam, gave written instructions to Kumar demanding the original list of candidates be replaced.
The court held that in 2000, Chautala senior and his son conspired with others for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior basic trained (JBT) teachers in the state. Initially, 62 accused were named but six died during the trial while one was discharged. Ajay Chautala was then an MP, who was in regular touch with Kumar over the recruitment lists. Among the 55 convicted are Sanjiv Kumar, Chautala’s former officer on special duty Vidya Dhar, both IAS officers, political advisor to the then Haryana CM Sher Singh Badshami and 16 women officials. Stating that it was under Chautala’s tutelage that the state government officials “executed this scam”, the court said, “There is a complete chain of circumstances which pinned down accused Om Prakash Chautala as the main conspirator… it was O P Chautala on whose behalf these accused persons were executing this scam.”
The circumstances and testimony of Sanjiv Kumar helped convince the court. As CM, Chautala directed Kumar to alter the award list, the court said as the judgment was pronounced in a jam-packed courtroom. The scam came to light after Kumar, a 1989 batch IAS officer, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court alleging that the Chautala government had resorted to corrupt practices while recruiting the junior teachers in 2000. The apex court handed the case to CBI, which over the course of a four-year investigation, raided Chautala’s premises and grilled him, his legislator sons and the former officials.
After the investigations, CBI also made Kumar an accused in the case. The prosecution alleged that the convicts had appointed 3,206 JBT teachers in the state during 1999-2000. In its chargesheet, the agency claimed that its probe established that a conspiracy on making a second list was hatched at Haryana Bhawan in the capital by calling the chairpersons and members of the district-level selection committees of 18 districts. They were also called to a guest house in Chandigarh, where the modalities were worked out, it had said. In its 308-page-order, the court relied on the testimony of Sanjiv Kumar and the CBI probe. Chautala’s INLD had got majority in Haryana in 2000 and the scam was committed the same year. Detailing the role of Chautala in the scam, the court said, “Profuse evidence is available on record to show that it was O P Chautala who was managing the whole affairs.” The court said that first IAS officer R P Chander, a CBI witness, who was the then director of primary education, had given a proposal for declaring the results of successful candidates in April 2000, but he was transferred the next day itself.
Subsequently, IAS officer Rajni Shekri Sibal, also a CBI witness, was brought in at Chander’s place and she was asked by accused Badshami and Vidya Dhar to change the award lists in the presence of Ajay Chautala, it said. “When Rajni recommended compilation of results vide her note sheet of June 20, 2000, she was also transferred and Sanjiv Kumar was appointed in her place,” the court said, adding that Kumar’s testimony proves he was brought with a “specific mandate of changing the award lists”. The counsel appearing for Chautala alleged that Sibal was “playing in the hands” of Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the present Haryana CM and a political rival of Chautala’s, but the court dismissed the defence contention.
“I am of the opinion that she is not only a truthful witness but I find that she was the only person who had enough courage to withstand the political pressures exerted upon them,” the court said. The defense counsel claimed Sibal was testifying falsely as she was a close relative of Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal and had links with Congress leaders. Dismissing the contention, the court said, “Had she (Sibal) been playing in the hands of Congress leaders, nothing stopped her from directly implicating the CM. She was an officer senior enough having an opportunity to meet the CM off and on…
Therefore, the allegation against her that she is playing in the hands of Congress leaders namely Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Kapil Sibal does not hold.” It also rejected the defense’s attempt to scatter the blame by submitting that the council of ministers was responsible collectively for a cabinet decision. “Although the cabinet decision was taken by the council of ministers, but it must be remembered that it was done with the permission of O P Chautala who was the chief minister at that time despite the fact that the item was not in the agenda,” it said.