New Delhi: Former Telecom Minister Sukhram, who was convicted in two corruption cases but was still free, was on Saturday awarded five years imprisonment by a Delhi court in a 1996 corruption case, after which he was arrested and taken to Tihar jail.
   
86-year-old Sukh Ram, who had held the Telecom portfolio in P V Narasimha Rao's cabinet and was convicted on Thursday in a cable contract case for taking Rs 3 lakh bribe, was handed out five years jail term by Special CBI judge R P Pandey who also imposed a fine of Rs four lakh on him.
   
To add to his humiliation, a person attacked the veteran politician from Himachal Pradesh minutes after his arrest was ordered by the court.
   
"The octogenarian convict has already reaped the dividend of a long-drawn process of law and as despite having been convicted in two other corruption cases, he is enjoying freedom, which is passing a wrong message to the public at large and strengthen the popular belief that one can earn money by corrupt means and enjoy its fruits by spending some portion of it," the court said.
   
The non-arrest of Sukh Ram, despite his convictions in two cases, and the plea of protracted trial did not get him any relief as the court took an adverse view of the arguments, saying they are rather aggravating circumstances which warranted his forthwith arrest.
   
Besides the present case, Sukh Ram was awarded a three-year jail term in 2002 in a case lodged under the Prevention of Corruption Act relating to equipment supply that resulted in a loss of Rs 1.66 crore to the state exchequer.
   
He was convicted and sentenced to three years jail in 2009 for possessing disproportionate assets worth Rs 4.25 crore. He, however, remained out of jail after being granted statutory bail in both the cases. The court, in its 11-page order on the quantum of sentence, said though the advanced age of Sukhram was a factor but other aggravating circumstances such as his remaining out of jail cannot be overlooked as it would send a wrong message to the society.
   
"I have reached an opinion that while the age of the convict is certainly a mitigating factor, his previous conviction in two other corruption cases is an aggravating circumstance which has to be considered while fixing the quantum of sentence.”
   
"Sukhram was holding a very high position of respect and trust as he was a Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Communication when he committed the offence of criminal conspiracy and corruption. The corrupt public servant is a menace to the society and brings the society and his office into disrepute," it said. The special judge noted courts cannot remain indifferent to corruption cases which have "shaken" the conscience of public at large and raised questions about the "efficacy" of law in tackling the menace.
   
"The court cannot remain oblivious to the factum of shaken public confidence in the efficacy of law to deal with corruption, particularly when it is the question of tackling the corruption cases involving high-ranking public servants such as ministers and, therefore, the court cannot afford to be excessive lenient with such convicts," the court said.
   
Citing a Supreme Court verdict, the judge said corruption is like a "plague" which is not only contagious but "if not controlled, spreads like a fire in a jungle and its virus can be compared with HIV leading to AIDS." The court said the “whole structure” of society would be destroyed if public servants indulged in corruption and goes unpunished.
   
"It is through the public servants that the policies of the legislature and government are implemented and welfare of the society can be ensured. If such public servants of the rank of minister indulge in corruption, the whole structure of the society would be destroyed and the policies of the legislature and the government, howsoever beneficial they may be, would gravely suffer," it said.
   
"I find wisdom in Kautilya's philosophy 'whoever imposes severe punishment becomes repulsive to people while he who awards mild punishment becomes contemptible. The ruler just with the rod is honoured. When deserved punishment is given, it endows the subject with spiritual good, material well-being and pleasure of senses", the court said.
     
Sukh Ram was held guilty under various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which entail a maximum sentence of 7 years jail term.
     
He was held guilty for misusing his official position during his tenure as Telecom Minister in award of contract worth Rs 30 crore to Haryana Telecom Limited (HTL), a private firm, to supply 3.5 Lakh Conductor Kilometers (LCKM) of Polythene Insulated Jelly Filled (PIJF) cables to the telecom department.

Sukhram attacked in court complex

Sukhram was on Saturday attacked by a man in the Rohini courts complex minutes after the special CBI Judge ordered his arrest to serve a five-year jail term in a corruption case.
   
The assailant identified as Harvinder Singh, however, was swiftly nabbed by the police after being beaten up by some persons accompanying 86-year-old Sukhram, who was the Telecom Minister in the P V Narasimha Rao Cabinet.
   
Eyewitnesses said the assailant, who was not armed, assaulted Sukhram with his hands and legs.
   
The incident occurred shortly after Sukhram, who remained out on bail during the 13-year long trial, was taken into custody. A senior police official said Singh was standing in the crowd at the court premises and was shouting anti-corruption slogans.
   
Police personnel overpowered Singh when he tried to reach out to Sukhram, the official said, adding that the man was detained under Delhi Police Act.
   
Singh later claimed that he was inspired by Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Anna Hazare and decided to vent his anger at anyone found involved in corruption, the official said.

(Agencies)