NEW DELHI: Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP Rasheed Masood looks set to beat Lalu Prasad to the dubious distinction of being the first convicted lawmaker to lose his Parliament seat.
A former Union minister, Masood was on Tuesday sentenced to four years by a special CBI court for allegedly manipulating admissions in medical colleges. This is the first conviction and sentencing of a lawmaker after July 10 when the Supreme Court ordered that members of Parliament and state legislatures would lose their seats automatically upon conviction.
Before the SC order, convicted legislators could hold on to their seats by appealing their convictions within three months.
RJD boss Lalu is set to follow suit with a Ranchi CBI court scheduled to sentence him on Thursday in a fodder scam case.
Masood’s sentence comes 20 days after he was convicted by special CBI judge J P S Malik for corruption, cheating and criminal conspiracy. Masood, who was minister of state for health (independent charge) in the V P Singh government between 1990 and 1991, was held guilty along with two former seniors bureaucrats for fraudulently nominating undeserving candidates to MBBS seats allotted to Tripura in medical colleges.
Even as 67-year-old Masood pleaded for a probational sentence citing his old age and poor health, the court trashed his plea saying that taking a lenient view would be a case of “misplaced sympathy”.
“In view of the circumstances of the case where the deserving students of the state of Tripura were fraudulently denied their due entitlement in medical/dental college pursuant to a conspiracy, taking a lenient view shall be a case of misplaced sympathy with the wrongdoers,” judge Malik said.
Masood, a special member of the Congress Working Committee, was immediately taken into custody as the court announced the sentence behind closed doors, barring media entry. Visibly anxious and tense, Masood reached the court even before working hours, along with a bunch of supporters from his previous Lok Sabha constituency Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. While being taken to Tihar jail, Masood told reporters that he was “innocent. Hundred percent innocent”.
Besides Masood, the court also awarded four-year jail term to two retired officers — Gurdial Singh, a former IPS officer, and IAS official Amal Kumar Roy, the then secretary of Tripura chief minister Sudhir Ranjan Majumdar. The nine students who had fraudulently got admission in medical colleges and were the beneficiaries in the case, were awarded one year imprisonment but were granted bail.
During arguments on quantum of sentence, Masood sought leniency on the grounds that he had coronary and “serious heart problems”. His co-convicts, Singh and 80-year-old Roy, also adopted the same plea for leniency and urged the court to release them on probation. Masood also pleaded that there was no other complaint against him or any prior conviction and if given a severe sentence, he would lose his Rajya Sabha seat. Roy had to be taken out of the court into the open for a while after his sentencing as he complained of uneasiness.
CBI, however, vehemently opposed the plea of Masood and others for release on probation and said, “Here is a case where lawmaker and law protectors had become law-breakers.” Citing the severity of their crime, CBI prosecutor V N Ojha said deserving students were denied their due by the person who was entrusted to work for their betterment.
In its 81-page order, the judge rejected their plea for probation saying relief of probation could not be given to convicts under the Probation of Offenders Act or under the Indian Penal Code. The court also imposed cost of Rs 60,000 on Masood. It also imposed a fine of Rs 1.5 lakh on Singh, Rs 1 lakh on Roy and Rs 40,000 each on the nine students.
Counsel for the nine students who had fraudulently got admission in medical colleges were convicted for cheating. Two of them, including Masood’s nephew, were juvenile at the time of the offence and their case had been transferred to the Juvenile Justice Board on January 25, 2007.
The then Tripura CM Sudhir Ranjan Majumdar and the then health minister Kashi Ram Reang were also accused in the case. They died during pendency of the trial.