A virtuous penalty

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A virtuous penalty

Saturday, 09 February 2019 | Pioneer

A virtuous penalty

It’s heartening to see that the Delhi High Court has made community service a part of judicial punishment

Community Service’ is a hallmark of justice systems across the world. Many people very often commit small crimes, or an offence where sending someone to jail might be judicial overreach or beyond common sense. Usually these involve individuals, who have made a mistake and committed a crime with no malice, first-time offenders and the like. It is also suitable punishment for ancillary issues, and that is what the Delhi High Court has told 2G Scam accused Shahid Balwa and some of his co-accused to do through planting 16,300 saplings in south Delhi’s ridge area as it appears that they have been working to delay the trial deliberately. This is not the first time that an Indian court has meted out such a punishment. But it is certainly a notable punishment in a high-profile case.

In fact, it would be welcome if other courts also start handing down community service punishments instead of jail-time or fines. For example, those accused of spitting paan in public places such as the Metro should not be let off with just a fine, they should be made to spend a few hours cleaning paan stains from the buildings. Also, traffic offenders, such as triple riders or those caught talking on the mobile phone, are often happy to pay the small sum of money to get away. This is particularly prevalent among those who can afford it. But what if they had to take driver education classes and then go to schools and teach the children about traffic safety for a day? In fact, getting people to pay minuscule fines is a part of the road safety problem in our country. Community service punishments can raise awareness about issues. For example, public cleanliness — so when you catch youths drinking and littering in parks, make them spend three days cleaning up as unpaid labour as punishment.

No one is suggesting that those accused of violent crimes or financial frauds be allowed to get away with crimes by just sweeping a road or teaching in a classroom. What we are suggesting is that community service can be a great way to teach people the virtues of hard work and how their innocuous mistakes can impact society at large. This will also dramatically reduce the burden on lower courts and will help with the problems of undertrials who cannot afford bail filling up jail cells across the country. Community service is an ideal punishment for low-grade crime and like in this case of planting saplings, everyone (else) ends up being a winner.

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