Amid Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) searches on former PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal to unearth disproportionate assets, officials who have served the ACB say that conviction rate in corruption cases is “pathetic” in Maharashtra.
Conviction rate has never crossed 25 per cent in cases related to corruption traps and raids to unearth disproportionate assets, they said. In the last 10 years that saw Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption reach a high, the average conviction rate was only 23 per cent in Maharashtra.
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An official who headed an ACB unit said, “In disproportionate assets cases, it is difficult to prove the crime. Documents are voluminous and tough to decipher. By the time judges understand the intricacies, they are transferred. The cases keep dragging on,” the official said.
Officials said that besides, arguments like appreciation in property price, borrowing money from various sources including relatives to buy the property under scanner, were often employed.
The official said, “A couple of years back, when I was with the ACB, I remember cases registered in 2004 had not even come up for hearing. Even after I left, cases are pending. This shows conviction has been abysmal. The scenario is grim…,” the official said, adding that he does not remember any top government official or leader being sent to long term jail by ACB in past few years.
S V Gurav, deputy superintendent, ACB, conceded that conviction rate has been low in Maharashtra. “However, things started improving in the past one and half years after the state government empowered sessions courts to hold trials in corruption cases. Earlier, there used to be only one designated special court in the district.”
Gurav said ACB was undertaking efforts to decipher voluminous property documents to enable verdicts can be delivered faster by courts. The ACB was stressing “technical evidence”. “Earlier, voice recorders used to be provided as evidence where there was possibility of tampering. The court used to give low importance to such secondary evidence. But now we are producing micro-chips of voice-recorders where there is less chance of tampering,” he said.
The ACB website shows that 3,251 corruption cases have been pending in special courts for years. One of the cases dates back to 1986 from Mumbai division. Nagpur division tops with 563 pending cases, Pune is second with 477 cases.
From 2008 to 2015, average conviction rate in Maharashtra was 23 per cent. In state capital Mumbai, it was 20 per cent and in Pune it was 22 per cent. In Amravati, conviction rate was the lowest, 17 per cent, and Thane showed the highest, 27 per cent.
ACB officials said conviction rates have started going up, but websites show that in Mumbai division in 2014, there were only 12 convictions and 27 acquittals. In 2015, only two officials were convicted and 25 were acquitted. In 2015, Pune showed the highest conviction, 19, among the seven ACB divisions. The acquittals were also high, 65, as charges could not be proved, which remains a common factor across the state.
ACB officials cited impediments like refusal of government departments to act against officials caught taking bribes. In the past couple of years, ACB officials said they had caught 150 officials — the highest was 38 from revenue and land records department — but they carry on with their duties, and the departments have refused to suspend them. “This allows officials to manipulate evidence,” said ACB officials.
Maruti Bhapkar, leader of Yogendra Yadav-led Swaraj Abhiyan, said, “It is because the ACB is weak, government officials have a free run in Maharashtra. Despite Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption all these years, corruption is high in Maharashtra.