Rs 25 bribe and delayed justice tormented him for 20 years

How long could it take for a person wrongly implicated in a Rs 25 bribery case to get justice? Six months, one year, two years ? For Abdulkhader Subair of Kadakkal in Kollam district of Kerala, it took 20 long years for justice to arrive from the highest court of the country and clear him of the charges. At what cost?

In two decades, he has lost 18 years of government service and lived with the stigma of being `corrupt’. The story of 53-year-old Subair is a slap in the face of the country’s justice system which often makes ordinary mortals victims of prejudices in the absence of solid evidence. Subair was just 31 when he joined the State Transport department as an assistant in 1987 with great enthusiasm of having landed a government job.

The incident which turned his career upside down happened on April 25, 1989 at the Joint Regional Transport Office in Attingal near Thiruvananthapuram where Subair was posted.

As he returned to his seat after lunch, a person whom he noticed had been moving around the office since morning suddenly appeared behind the window. He introduced himself as Munaff and that he had applied to get his driving licence converted ‘‘from a mere paper to book’’ format. ‘‘I asked him to show the acknowledgment receipt of the application. He said he did not have it as he had applied through a driving school. I asked him to sign up in the register. Even before he finished doing that, he took out two currency notes of Rs 20 and Rs 5 and put it into my shirt pocket. I was surprised and took the money out and put it on the table,’’ Subair told Deccan Herald. Within a minute, a team of police from the Vigilance department trooped in and arrested Subair for ‘‘taking bribe’’.

‘‘They neither took a statement from me nor Munaff who had offered the money. I was suspended from service on May 6 but had to wait indefinitely for the trial to begin,’’ he said. So, Subair petitioned his department head and the then chief minister K Karunakaran to reinstate him. The government ordered his reinstatement on November 23, 1991. A much relieved Subair thought things were returning to normal especially when he got married the next year. ‘‘For a couple of years I thought my bad days were over especially after a daughter was also born. Also, the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile by then. I wanted to know why this man called Munaf did this to me. On enquiry I came to know that he was in the Gulf,’’ he said.

Suspended from service

Things turned turtle when the Vigilance court declared him guilty and awarded him rigorous imprisonment for 18 months with a fine of Rs 350. ‘‘I was again suspended from service on February 19, 1996 and later dismissed on August 30 that year. In December 2003, the high court upheld the Vigilance court verdict and I was sent to jail. I spent about 5 months in jail by which time I got bail from the Supreme Court,’’  Subair went on. He set up a small provision shop in his home town to look after his family.

Finally, on May 26 this year, Subair got justice as the Supreme Court cleared him of corruption charges citing inability of the prosecution to prove the charge. The judges cited a serious lapse in not being able to question Munaff who allegedly put the Rs 25 note in Subair’s pocket.

Fateful day

The tenth witness, a  police constable, had stated that Subair spoke to Munaff behind the window that fateful day and soon after, the latter had given him Rs 25. This gesture alone sought to suggest that Subair had demanded bribe. The court felt that this cannot be assumed.

‘‘I have lost twenty prime years of my life for no mistake of mine. I spent about Rs 2 lakh for conducting the case. Who is going to pay for these losses?’’ he asks. If reinstated, Subair will have two more years left for his service to end. He now hopes that he would also be given full benefits of the period he was kept out unjustly.
However, the one question that begs an answer is: Why did a person whom Subair never knew implicate him in a bribery case, turn his life upside down and then vanish into thin air? Subair says he still keeps wondering.

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