24 DECEMBER 2018
Failure of justice
The acquittal of all those accused in the Sohrabuddin case raises disturbing questions
The omnibus acquittal of all the police personnel accused of eliminating Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a ‘fake encounter’ in Gujarat in 2005 represents a substantial failure of justice. It is true that it is not easy to obtain an order of conviction against police personnel accused of killing suspects in a fake encounter. It becomes that much harder for any agency when influential political leaders and top police officers are cited as accused. It is unsurprising that the case, in which BJP president Amit Shah and a few Indian Police Service officers had been discharged earlier, ended with the acquittal of 22 men, all but one of them policemen. As many as 92 of the 210 witnesses turned hostile. The trial judge himself appeared to be saddened by the outcome, but it is difficult to agree with his observation that one could not fault the CBI for witnesses going back on their statements. It is the prosecution’s duty to ensure the safety of witnesses and give them the confidence and courage to speak the truth under oath. While it is perhaps not surprising that witnesses in the police did not support the prosecution, it is disappointing that others could not be encouraged to do so. For instance, the driver and a passenger in a bus, allegedly intercepted by the police team and from which Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and an associate, Tulsiram Prajapati, were taken away, denied such an incident took place.
It is unfortunate that the families of the victims do not have the consolation of anyone being brought to justice. While Sohrabuddin’s killing has ‘encounter’ as an explanation, his wife’s disappearance remains a mystery. It was not proved that she was taken to a farm, killed and her body burnt. And it cannot be a coincidence that Prajapati was killed a year later in Rajasthan in another encounter. It was under a cloud of suspicion over the circumstances of their death that Sohrabuddin’s brother had approached the Supreme Court and obtained an order for an investigation, which was subsequently handed over to the CBI. In losing this case, the CBI has shown that it continues to struggle when it comes to handling cases with political overtones. The 2014 discharge of Mr. Shah and the subsequent pre-trial exoneration of senior police officer D.G. Vanzara had come as a boost to the BJP. The final decision in the trial is also likely to be interpreted as a justification for some encounters that took place in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister. Mr. Vanzara has implied as much in controversial tweets. He has also claimed that such ‘pre-emptive encounters’ were needed to save Mr. Modi. This is a tacit acknowledgement that these may not have been chance encounters, as genuine ones are supposed to be, but part of a plan to eliminate a threat to the leader’s life through extrajudicial killings. It is regrettable that such a triumphalist narrative is sought to be built around such incidents.
The banks recapitalisation plan is per senot bad but funds must be distributed prudently
With just months to go for the general election, the government looks all set to open the credit taps of the economy. The Centre has sought Parliament’s approval to infuse an additional Rs. 41,000 crore into public sector banks that are starved of precious capital to remain afloat. Along with another Rs. 42,000 crore that is already budgeted for infusion, this tranche will take the total planned funds infusion into banks this year to Rs. 83,000 crore. More important, the infusion will help banks boost lending and stimulate economic activity going into an election year. In fact, the latest fund infusion is aimed, among other things, to help a number of public sector banks to climb out of the Reserve Bank of India’s Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework. As many as 11 public sector banks have been stopped from lending freely by the RBI under the PCA framework due to their poor financial health. It is important that the additional capital is not wasted on banks that have not shown any improvement but rather used to support the weak ones that are on the recovery path. The government has said that PCA banks which have shown better performance in terms of reduction in NPAs and improvement in return of assets will be given priority. The proof will come when the allocations to individual banks are announced.
There have been reports that four banks under the PCA — Allahabad Bank, Bank of India, Corporation Bank and Bank of Maharashtra — will soon be out of the restrictive framework. This is following a review by the Board for Financial Supervision of the RBI, which went over the financials of all the banks under the framework. While Corporation Bank and Bank of Maharashtra have shown a semblance of improvement in their asset quality and registered a profit in the September quarter, the other two are not over the hump yet. The government is obviously keen to free up the banks from restrictions on lending. But it flies counter to the RBI’s basic objective in keeping these banks under the PCA framework, which is to nurse them back to good health. In its eagerness to achieve its political objectives, the government should not end up pushing good money after bad by apportioning extra capital to these weak banks instead of supporting the ones that are on the recovery path. There are enough headaches for banks to handle in the form of the waiver of agriculture loans and the rising share of loans to small businesses, which are risky. While the idea of infusing more money into banks is not bad per se, given that they are grappling with inadequate capital, a lot depends on how and to which banks this money is distributed. This is where the government has to exercise prudence and caution.