Sunday December 04, 2022

Gloomy coincidence

December 25, 2018

The decision to convert the Prime Minister House into a state of the art university by the prime minster was though laudable but the gruesome death of University Professor of Sargodha University, Mian Javed Akram, in custody of the jail authorities was a gloomy coincidence by any stretch of imagination. The abhorrent death was both condemnable and contemptible. Coincidently, while the army chief confirmed the death sentence of 14 hardcore terrorists, the jail authorities’ negligence guillotined an accused educationist of the country on the same day. The chief justice may consider taking notice of the ghastly death of the professor as demanded by the Association of the University Teachers. The culprits may be taken to task to make example out of this heart-wrenching incident that has shocked the whole civil society with anguish and outrage.

The incident is the physical manifestation of the official’s bankruptcy of the common sense that even does not equate at the ordinary level. The photo of the dead body of the professor on the social media with chains went viral in social and electronic media speaking in volumes of the utter insensitivity of the relevant authorities to the corpse. It may not be difficult to imagine as how they treat the living human under trial. The media keep on reporting the inhuman treatment meted to the prisoners but its perpetuity with impunity clearly manifests that the officials are not prepared to exercise legal methods to carry out investigations in an enabling environment. The mindset should be made to change and those who refuse to abide by may be sidelined to pay for their misplaced defiance.

The horror begged all descriptions as the deceased professor was kept in chains even when he was brought to local hospital for treatment where the doctor reportedly pronounced the professor had already expired, and as such medical treatment could not be of any use in view of the no possibility of his resuscitation. The jail authorities maintained that the late professor died because of cardiac arrest as he was feeling acute discomfort in his chest. The question that agitated the mind was as why it was considered normal to bring such detainee to the hospital with chains while he was struggling for his life? Was the professor a hard-core terrorist necessitating the extreme security measures to prevent him from fleeing during the shifting? The situation was not at all comparable in this case and therefore the treatment meted out to the professor might be equated with criminal negligence warranting investigation to fix the responsibility.

The government may consider ordering the judicial enquiry to dig out the whole truth in view of the divergent versions being presented by the NAB, the jail authorities and the media. The image of the Punjab government is at stake in particular that can only be salvaged through an impartial enquiry.

The Punjab chief minister has reportedly taken the notice of this despicable incident and has immediately solicited the report from the relevant authorities presumably to take disciplinary action against the culprits. The gravity of the sordid incident demands that the case may be followed to the logical conclusion failing which the image of the government may suffer severe jolt that is already teetering on the edge of downside. It may be kept in mind as a proven fundamental of good administration that if wrong or poor judgments are not subjected to accountability and punished accordingly the inevitability of repeating the same mistakes of horrendous proportion cannot be ruled out in the future. The culprits may face the legal consequences of their shambolic handling. The unprecedented strong reaction of the civil society as reflected in the news and views in case of Professor Mujahid Kamran, former Punjab University VC, who was brought handcuffed by NAB in the Court of Law, should have served as an effective deterrence on the authorities in this case. But, their casual attitude of business as usual was undoubtedly unforgiving.

It may be recalled that Professor Javed Akram was under custody of the NAB since October this year for the investigations of allegations of minting millions of rupees through misuse of authority pertaining to Sargodha University Sub-Campus located at Mandibahuddin. The Supreme Court while taking suo moto of the case had directed the NAB authorities to investigate the allegations as the students were protesting against University administration demanding the award of degrees. The NAB has yet to file reference although lot of time has gone by, and the accused have been undergoing the jail sufferings due to the delayed dispensation of justice. As the bona fides of the case were yet to be established for prosecution by the investigation authorities- NAB- the fate of the detainees remained hanging by a thread. The first stage (investigation) stood inconclusive so the wheel of justice could not start moving for want of the prosecution bringing the complete case in the Court of Law. It was expected to be long haul during which the accused suffer agonising torture juxtaposed with the unprofessional approach of the investigating agencies causing inordinate delay in the administration of justice, allegorical to justice delayed is justice denied.

The incident has further intensified the debate on the accountability process questioning its credibility through the prism of across the board or otherwise. Arguably, the accountability mechanism should be across the board totally devoid of discrimination. It is not only be undertaken so, but also be seen to be so across the board. The perception of the ongoing accountability in the country generally lacks this fundamental characteristics as all the Opposition parties have been raising their voice against it as being used as tool of victimisation at the behest of the ruling party. The NAB’s repeated assertions articulating the indiscriminate nature of the accountability under its auspices seemingly wins no takers in the face of the obvious realities. The perception may be bigger than reality and therefore the NAB may take corrective measures to address the perception by placing before the people the irrefutable facts to substantiate its claims. Mere playing to the gallery may not suffice. The fact of the matter is that it has not won the trust of the people by and large. The obvious realities are that all the major leaders of the Opposition parties, PML (N) and the PPP, are being detained and investigated vigorously while the leaders of the ruling allies facing similar charges are being spared for the reasons only best known to the NAB authorities. This perceived travesty of accountability is too obvious that is being noticed by the people and beyond.

The draconian nature of the NAB law is widely under scrutiny of the media and the civil society. It is being felt so among the politicians of all shades who have expressed their aversion as the implementation of law in the present form make them subject of excessive media trial pouring scorn and humiliation on them. The ruling party members may also be apprehensive of coming under the heel of the same law in future if it is not amended to make it an effective instrument of eliminating corruption rather than becoming the tool of vendetta in the hands of future rulers. There are media reports that the ruling party also, though with less intensity, feels the need to improve the NAB law to meet the imperatives of justice and fair play without compromising the interests of thorough investigation of the cases of corruption.

At the same time, there is dire need to improve the NAB law that gives unlimited powers to the agency those may be closer to serve the purpose of witch hunting than of investigations. The authority to detain anybody on suspicion charges for period of not exceeding four months may not facilitate the investigation but surely the political purpose of browbeating of the political opponents.

The chronicle of NAB is riddled with the periods of political victimisation of the political opponents, or used to bring the parliamentarians of other parties to become the part of the ‘King Party’. General Musharraf used it against the PPP to coerce its parliamentarians to join his party known as “Patriots” or face the consequences of their recalcitrance. He succeed in forming the government though with razor- thin majority by using it as the long stick to rope in the political crooks who sold their conscience under intimidation like cowards.