Cuttack, July 6: Balaram Rout, Sarat Kumar Mohanty and Subash Chandra Das are retired government officers, all in their seventies.
They are also facing trial for close to two decades.
Vigilance officers had raided their residences and registered cases of disproportionate assets against the trio more than 16 years ago. Since then, the trial has moved at snail’s pace. All three have moved high court for judicial redress and their petitions are in various stages of hearing.
“The petitions were listed before the two-judge bench of Chief Justice V. Gopalgowda and Justice Indrajeet Mohanty along with other petitions for hearing today. But the hearing remained incomplete,” said one of the counsels for the petitioners.
Nearly 16 years ago, when the now 74-year-old Mohanty was the deputy director of agriculture, land and water management in Bhadrak, vigilance officers raided his residence. A case was registered against him in 1994 under the Prevention of Corruption Act. But there has been hardly any trial in the case till date.
For 78-year-old Rout, a retired IAS officer, the ordeal has been longer. Around 19 years ago, a day before Rout’s retirement as settlement officer, Cuttack-Puri major circle, state vigilance officials conducted raids at his residence. Though a case was registered against him in July 1991 under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the trial has taken place in fits and starts.
The ordeal continues for 73-year-old Das as well. Over 20 years ago, when Das was the chief general manager, IDCO in Bhubaneswar, vigilance officers raided his residence. A case was registered against him in March 1990 under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The chargesheet was filed in the same year.
Finding no way out of this torment, these retired bureaucrats had filed petitions in Orissa High Court seeking intervention against infringement of the right to speedy trial.
“From the date of the institution of the case and criminal proceedings thereof, I am spending my days with great anxiety and mental agony,” Rout says in his petition.
The petition adds that the delay in trial has disturbed Rout’s “peace of mind” and made him “incapable of pursuing his avocation of life”.
The Orissa Special Courts Act, 1990, was formulated with the purpose of speedy trial of “corrupt” politicians and bureaucrats and enforced by the Biju Patnaik government (1990-95) in July 1992. The Congress government, headed by J.B. Patnaik, repealed the law in August 1995 soon after coming to power that year.
Nearly 12 years later, the Naveen Patnaik government resurrected the repealed Act with necessary modifications and consequently the Orissa Special Courts Act, 2006, was passed in 2007. But nothing seems to have since changed except for shuttling of cases between the special vigilance courts to the special court set up for trying the cases. “It (the Orissa Special Courts Act, 2006) is a draconian piece of legislation and a whipping lash in the hands of the powers that be,” alleged Subash Chandra Das, while seeking quashing of the criminal proceedings pending against him.
Mohanty, on the other hand, had challenged the efficacy of the Special Courts Act. “Although the Act aims to curtail and eradicate corruption in political and public offices, in reality, the sole objective is to fix political opponents and officials who are not pliant,” he alleged.
State vigilance bureau officials said though nearly 300 cases are registered on an average every year, chargesheets are filed in only 70 per cent of them.
The officials conceded that only 30 per cent of them are disposed of while in several cases, the investigation agency and witnesses lose interest because of the lengthy trial period.
“If the present disposal rate is any indication, it would take at least another 20 years to clear the backlog, if no more cases are registered,” said a senior vigilance official.