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Friday, July 30, 2021

Explained: Why former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala may be a free man soon

Under what law has Om Prakash Chautala been granted the benefit of early release, and what does his likely re-entry into active politics mean for the political situation in Haryana?

Written by Varinder Bhatia , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 24, 2021 7:32:29 am
Om Prakash ChautalaOm Prakash Chautala became Chief Minister of Haryana on four occasions. (File photo)

Haryana’s former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala will be released from Delhi’s Tihar jail soon under Special Remission Rules.

Chautala, who has been serving his sentence after being convicted of corruption in the infamous Junior Basic Training (JBT) teachers’ recruitment scam, has been out of jail on parole for the past several months.

Under what law has he been granted the benefit of early release, and what does his likely re-entry into active politics mean for the political situation in Haryana?

What is the current status of Om Prakash Chautala’s imprisonment?

Chautala became Chief Minister four times, serving three short terms from December 2, 1989 to May 22, 1990 (Janata Dal); from July 12, 1990 to July 17, 1990 (Janata Dal); and from March 22, 1991 to April 5, 1991 (Samajwadi Janata Party). His only full term as Chief Minister was from July 24, 1999 to March 4, 2005 (Indian National Lok Dal).

But it was only in 2013 that Chautala, his elder son Ajay Chautala (the father of Haryana’s Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala), and 53 others were convicted in the JBT scam case. Chautala and some other convicts were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for corruption, and he was lodged in Tihar on January 16, 2013.

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, Chautala was given emergency parole on March 26, 2020. He was due to surrender in Tihar on February 21, 2021. However, the date of his return was extended after an order by Delhi High Court.

On the scheduled date of surrender, February 21, 2021, Chautala had two months and 27 days of his sentence left to serve. This will be counted as remission now.

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What is the official communication in this regard?

In an email sent to Chautala’s lawyer, authorities at Tihar have said that the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi has passed an order granting six months’ special remission to convicts who have completed nine years and six months (including regular remission) of their 10-year term.

“The said convict (Om Prakash Chautala) was released from this jail on parole, which was extended time to time due to Covid-19 situation. In view of the above, it is informed that… [Chautala] has completed his sentence and he is eligible for special remission,” the communication says.

“[Chautala] will be finally released whenever he formally surrenders before the jail authority. It is therefore requested to inform the convict Om Prakash Chautala…accordingly.”

Chautala’s lawyer Amit Sahni said: “[He] has completed his sentence in the JBT case. It has been a battle seeking justice for him. Several times, we had to approach the Delhi High Court seeking his release. On several occasions, the Delhi High Court even reprimanded the Delhi government for not considering his plea regarding an early release despite the fact that he was fulfilling all the parameters for his early release.”

What is the legal provision from which Chautala has benefitted?

Like last year, special remission was granted by the Delhi government to convicts who were about to complete their sentence, vide an order dated June 21, 2021.

In 2018, the Union government had come out with a special remission scheme, in which convicts serving up to 10 years’ sentence, and who were above the age of 60 years and had completed more than half of their prison terms, were eligible to be released.

Based on this provision, Chautala had moved Delhi High Court to plead that he had already completed more than five years of his sentence, that he was 89 years old, and that he was more than 70 per cent physically challenged.

What was the JBT teachers’ recruitment scam?

The timeline of the case was as follows:

November 1999: An advertisement was issued announcing the recruitment of 3,206 JBT teachers.

June 5, 2003: Haryana IAS officer Sanjiv Kumar (now under suspension and sentenced to 10 years in jail), moved Supreme Court complaining of largescale corruption and tampering of records in the recruitment of 3,206 JBT teachers in Haryana.

November 25, 2003: SC ordered an investigation by the CBI.

December 12, 2003: CBI registered a preliminary enquiry (PE).

May 24, 2004: CBI registered a regular case against 62 persons under various provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

2004-2008: CBI’s investigations revealed the involvement of Chautala, Ajay Chautala, Sanjiv Kumar, and others in the scam.

June 6, 2008: CBI filed a chargesheet before a Special CBI judge against 62 persons.

June 16, 2008: CBI court took cognisance of the chargesheet.

July 23, 2011: Charges were framed against 61 accused. A retired official of the Haryana Education Department, who was named in the original chargesheet, was discharged.

December 17, 2012: Final arguments in the case concluded. During the trial, six accused, all retired Education Department officials, passed away, leaving 55 accused in the case.

January 16, 2013: Chautalas and 53 others were convicted.

January 22, 2013: The Chautalas, Sanjiv Kumar, and seven others were awarded 10-year jail terms. 44 others got four years, and one accused was given five years in jail.

February 7, 2013: Chautala moved Delhi High Court against his conviction.

July 11, 2014: HC reserved judgment on the appeal.

March 5, 2015: HC upheld the trial court’s order awarding 10-year jail terms to the Chautalas and three others. It modified the quantum of sentence for 50 other convicts to two years.

August, 2015: Chautala moved the Supreme Court against the High Court’s orders. However, the Supreme Court too dismissed his appeal and upheld his conviction.

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What does Chautala’s release mean for Haryana’s political scenario?

Chautala’s party, the Indian National Lok Dal, is in the doldrums. Its lone MLA, Chautala’s younger son Abhay Chautala, had resigned from the Vidhan Sabha in solidarity with farmers protesting against the three farm laws.

The INLD’s breakaway faction, JJP, led by Chautala’s elder son Ajay Chautala, has 10 MLAs. Om Prakash’s grandson Dushyant Chautala leads the party, which is in alliance with the BJP in Haryana.

The next Vidhan Sabha polls in the state are due in 2024. While on parole, Chautala had been addressing public meetings, and had even campaigned for his party for the Assembly elections of 2019. He did not make much impact, however.

Chautala is considered close to the rural voters of Haryana. As such, his release may give a slight impetus to the farmers’ agitation.

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