Courts tilt towards rich

AS a law abiding citizen, I have faith in the court to rectify the wrong done to me. I have never been cheated except when the Emergency was declared and I was detained without any rhyme or reason.

The two-judge panel accepted my wife's habeas corpus petition and released me. The reason for my release was that since I did not belong to any political party and pursued my journalistic work professionally, there was no ground to detain me. Both the judges were, however, punished. The senior judge S. Rangarajan was transferred to Sikkim and Justice R.N. Aggarwal was reverted to the Sessions Court from where he had been elevated. Both the judges were sacrificed at the altar of press freedom.

Never have I suspected influence, pressure or money coming in the way of justice. But the two recent judgments have shaken my faith in law courts. In the first case, actor Salman Khan has been released on bail without spending a minute in jail and, in the second, J. Jayalalithaa who had to step down as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has been exonerated from the charge of having amassed wealth disproportionate to her known income.

Granted the lawyers must have argued well. Both Salman and Jayalalithaa can afford the best of legal brains in the country. But the judges, who heard their cases, too have to see that they deliver justice however weak the prosecution is.

I am sorry that this has not happened. It is not because the lawyers had the better of judges, but because other considerations must have come in. My firm conviction is that influence, if not money, worked. These are fit cases for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into under the Supreme Court. It would be a travesty of justice if the verdicts against Salman and Jayalalithaa are accepted and nothing else is done in the matter.

Take the case of Salman. The trial court does come to the conclusion that he was driving the car in a drunken condition and he killed the people sleeping on the pavement. Rightly, a sentence of five years is pronounced because that is the minimum the judge could have awarded under the law.

However, the actor gets an interim bail before the case is taken up for a regular bail in Bombay High Court. There, the judge suspends the sentence pending the hearing of Salman's appeal. True, it is his prerogative. But would he do so in the case of an ordinary citizen? The VIP status of the culprit seems to have been the main criterion for taking a lenient view of the crime.

I wish the judge had taken into consideration the orphaned families of the victims. He even does not recommend more compensation to the Rs. 19 lakh which Salman had himself deposited and which the court had not distributed to the victims for 13-long years, the period for which the case was not complete. Salman's influence or money power came in handy to delay the case as long as possible and the police were a willing partner.

The Parliament should take note of it and ensure that the machinery of law does not move slowly and slovenly. There is no politics in it. Only money has mattered. Surely, the system can devise ways to stop the well-to-do from committing a crime and getting away with it. This can happen provided the MPs act according to their conscience, not the party whip which again is politics.

One exception that comes to my mind straightaway is the Sanjeev Nanda's hit-and-run case. Even after a protracted proceedings and inordinate delay, Nanda was convicted and sent to jail. His father was the former naval chief and still he could not save Sanjeev. On the other hand, Salman uses his influence and escapes jail even though it can be argued that his sentence has been suspended. In the case of another actor, Sanjay Dutt, there were so many furores because he was released on parole many a time.

Coming back to Jayalalitha's exoneration, it is equally amazing. The luxury in which she wallows is not a matter of perception. It can be seen and assessed in terms of buildings and other visible things. The judge is entitled to give a culprit the benefit of the doubt, but closing his eyes to realities amounts to favouritism. Why the concession will be the question asked straightaway?

The judgment stated that the total income of Jayalalithaa was Rs. 34.76 crore. If Rs. 13.50 crore, added by mistake, is deducted the income would come to Rs. 21.26 crore. But the assets of Jayalalitha are Rs. 37.59 crore as accepted by the judge. There is still a difference of Rs. 16.32 crore between the assets and the actual income. But the judge stated that the difference came to only Rs. 2.82 crore which is 8.12 percent above the income. However, the special public prosecutor said that Rs. 16.32 crore translated to assets 76 percent above known income. Obviously, there was a mistake somewhere that needs to be rectified.

That the judicial system is tilted towards the haves is a fact which cannot be denied. There is no provision of referendum in the constitution and parliament will not be included to interfere because both the main political parties, the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), will never agree to radical changes. Their real base is the middle class, not prone to anything drastic.

The verdicts in the cases of both Salman and Jayalalithaa may have shaken the nation. The Narendra Modi government has still four years left in its five-year term. Therefore the nation, however handicapped, has to wait for fresh elections, which may be contested on different issues altogether. Still some changes need to be made so that the lower half has also access to remedies to get their due. 

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.


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