Law isn't justice

BMW HIT-AND-RUN CASE

Ten years ago, six persons, including three policemen, were run over in Delhi by a speeding BMW with an inebriated young man at the wheel. The Delhi high court has now commuted the trial court’s sentence of the offender, Sanjeev Nanda, from five years to two, all but a month of which has already been served as an undertrial.

The justification for the revised sentence was that the event, though a result of rash and negligent driving, was not willfully caused with intent to kill but was truly an accident for which the maximum penalty, as finally awarded, is two years imprisonment.

So far, so good. That is the law. But is that justice? Other than the fact of an accident through rash and negligent driving there were certain other attendant circumstances. After the accident, Nanda and his companions did not report to the police or carry the injured/dead to the hospital. Instead, they drove off to the Nanda residence and garaged and thereafter cleaned the car of bloodstains. The attempt to obliterate any trace of guilt proved unavailing as there was a tell-tale oil trial from the accident site to the garage.

A news channel exposed collusion between Nanda’s counsel, R K Anand, and the prosecutor, I U Khan, to subvert the trial. A year later, the high court held both Anand and Khan guilty of contempt and barred them from appearing in court for four months. On whose behalf did Anand act if not that of his client? These events add a moral dimension to the case through the attempt to evade the law and subvert due process.

The high court judge did take cognizance of these facts in awarding the maximum punishment permissible under the law. Yet, Nanda’s case was not improved by the statement by his counsel that he deserved leniency because the family had paid Rs 65 lakh as compensation to the accident victims and that he himself had suffered the trauma of 10 years of incarceration as an undertrial.

What of the agony of the victims’ kith and kin who had to wait ten long years for closure against a guilty but powerful and well-connected accused? The Nanda case merits a closer systemic look as this is not the first time that well-heeled offenders have violated the law and then sought to pull their rank and wealth to try and get away, buy witnesses and seek leniency while the lowly are often treated with indignity and pushed to the wall unheard by society.

Maybe, the answer to moral as against legal guilt might lie in an amendment to the law that permits courts to award ‘moral punishment’ in appropriate cases in the form of a year or two of approved social service among the downtrodden as determined by the court before such persons gain final absolution.

Public ruckus

Egos and arrogance take many forms but in all of these ‘class’ comes into the picture. Everyone but Dr Abdul Kalam seems to have been outraged because the former president was frisked and unshod on the aero-bridge by Continental Airlines security staff in Delhi before boarding a flight to the US as required under American law.

The incident took place in April and a public ruckus could have been avoided by quiet diplomacy to ensure avoidance of or strict reciprocity in such cases on the basis of agreed protocols.

Then, MPs of all hues were up in arms when the government said it wished to downgrade NSG security to certain former ministers. At a time when the country has insufficient policemen to combat crime in the cities and fight the Naxalite menace, it is absurd to have to tie down dozens upon dozens of the highest trained security personnel to guard ever longer lists of former ministers and others on grounds of ‘threats’ to their lives.

Status symbols

These security norms and baubles like red and blue car-top beacons and shrieking sirens must be reviewed as they have largely become status symbols for vainglorious politicians. More recently an MP tried to break the prime minister’s motorcade security while he was proceeding to parliament on the ground that he had as much right to reach parliament on time as anybody else. And then, the Andhra MP who slapped a rural bank manager for not giving out dalit loans as he desired. 

In the midst of all these ego-trips one must welcome a judgment of the Andhra high court staying a state government order providing financial assistance to Christians desirous of going on pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth. The proposal was a clear case of communal vote banking and an abuse of public funds on a par with the increasing subsidies being given to Haj pilgrims and those undertaking the yatra to Kailas-Mansarovar.

It is time the UPA government put an end to such flagrant competitive communalism that goes against the Constitution and the commitment to secularism. Provide facilities within reason, yes. Subsidies - essentially the buying of community votes – no.

Finally, the country needs to come down heavily on such unacceptable traditions as neck-deep burial of children to cure their disabilities during total solar eclipses, as happened in Gulbarga last week, and a series of ‘honour killings’ for marriage within the same gotra in Haryana. Leaving social reform to time alone is a poor answer.

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