Former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala today moved the Delhi High Court challenging his conviction and 10 years sentence for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior teachers 12 years ago.
Chautala, 78-year-old chief of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), who was sent to Tihar Jail after his conviction, sought suspension of his jail term on the ground that "he is unwell and suffering from various ailments".
While seeking urgent hearing of his appeal, he contended that the order of the trial court is liable to be set aside as "it was against the tenets of law as well as contrary to the evidence."
Further, he said, "The present case is false, fictitious and subsumed with political overtones" and he ought not to be put to such great prejudice and hardship due to his conviction and incarceration during the pendency of the accompanying appeal, which is unlikely to be disposed of expeditiously.
"The trial court has failed to appreciate that in a democratic set up and under the principles of collective responsibility, it is the entire Council of Ministers which is responsible for a Cabinet decision and not any one Minister.
"In such a scenario, only singling out the appellant (Chautala) merely because he is the chief minister is unwarranted and erroneous. Further, it a settled principle that in a Cabinet, the Chief Minister is only first among equals," the petition filed by advocate Siddharth Aggarwal said.
The INLD chief, his MLA son Ajay Chautala and 53 others including two IAS officers were convicted on January 16 by the trial court for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior basic trained
(JBT) teachers in Haryana in 2000.
The senior Chautala, who was held as the "main conspirator" of the scam by the court, was found guilty of cheating, forgery, using fake documents as genuine and conspiracy under the IPC and for abusing his official position under the Prevention of Corruption
The five-time former Chief Minister and his son Ajay are both sitting MLAs and could stand disqualified from contesting the assembly elections next year if their conviction is not stayed by the High Court.
Under the Representation of the People Act (RPA), a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to more than two years jail shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and for a further period of six years after his release.
Chautala's INLD is the largest opposition in the Haryana assembly with 30 MLAs in a House of 90 members. The sentencing of the Chautalas could come as a serious setback in the 2014 elections if they are not able to contest in an essentially three-way race among Congress, INLD and BJP-Haryana Janhit Congress combination.
Seeking stay on the operation of Chautala's conviction, Aggarwal said it is a case of "no evidence".
The counsel also sought suspension of Chautala's sentence on health grounds saying that he is 70 per cent disabled and requires constant supervision.
"The applicant had to be hospitalized (after verdict on conviction on January 16) for chest pain, difficulty in breathing, fluctuations in blood pressure and coronary heart disease and till recently was in G B Pant Hospital," he said.
The petition said the trial court failed to appreciate that a Cabinet meeting is an Act under the Constitution.
"Decisions of Cabinet meetings are sacrosanct and are out of purview of judicial scrutiny. The decision taken in these meetings are in full public view and scrutiny where the entire cabinet and senior bureaucracy is present," it said.
It also said that the trial court findings were based on the testimony of IAS officer Sanjiv Kumar, who was also sentenced to 10 years in jail in the case, and not on the basis of investigation and evidence.
The petition said, "The trial court failed to appreciate that the position of the appellant
(Chautala) as a political figure in Haryana makes him an easy and soft target for any motivated individual to make false allegations against him".
It also said, "the trial court has failed to appreciate that the circumstances on the basis of which the charge had been framed have not been proven."
"There was no evidence on record that the 3,206 persons who got selected were persons of the appellant's choice," it added.
Chautala claimed that there is no criminal misconduct attributable to him nor there has been any pecuniary advantage caused to him or any other person.
He also contended that the trial court has failed to appreciate that the evidence on record clearly established that the CBI was obliged to take sanction for his prosecution under Section 197 of the
"Since lack of sanction goes to the root of the matter as a jurisdictional defect, the entire trial is vitiated," he contended.
Regarding his 10 year jail term, Chautala said that a higher punishment has been imposed on him for the offence of conspiracy, more than the maximum punishment for substantive offences against him under the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act, which was "not legal and proper".
He added that he had played no role in forging of the award lists.
Apart from the Chautalas (father and son), the then Director of Primary Education Sanjiv Kumar, Chautala's former Officer on Special Duty Vidya
Dhar, both IAS officers, political advisor to the then Haryana CM Sher Singh Badshami were given 10 years jail term.
The remaining five, including a woman, who have been awarded 10 years jail term are Madan Lal
Kalra, Durga Dutt Pradhan, Bani Singh, Ram Singh and Daya Saini.
Apart from them, one convict has been handed five years and the rest 44 were given four years imprisonment. Among the 55 convicts, 16 are women officials.
The court relied on the testimony of Sanjiv Kumar who initially was a whistle blower but in the CBI probe that followed he was also found to be involved in the scam.
Chautala's INLD had got majority in Haryana in 2000 and the scam was also committed in the same year.
The CBI had filed its charge sheet in a Delhi court after its probe established that a conspiracy on making second lists was hatched at Haryana Bhawan here by calling the chairpersons and members of the district-level selection committees of 18 districts.
They were also called at a guest house in Chandigarh, where the modalities were worked out, it had said.
The apex court had in its order on Sanjiv Kumar's plea on November 25, 2003, directed CBI to take up the investigation of the case.