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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 22, May 23, 2015

Courts Tilt towards the Rich

Friday 22 May 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

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 Bench 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, Justice 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 the 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 inquire 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 the Bombay High Court. Then, 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 than the Rs 19 lakhs 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.

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 comm-itting 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 Sanjeev Nanda’s hit-and-run case. Even after 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 much furore because he was released on parole many a time.

Coming back to Jayalalithaa’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 the culprit the benefit of doubt, but closing his eyes to the realities amounts to favouritism. Why should there be any conce-ssion? This is the question to be asked straight-away.

The judgment stated that the total income of Jayalalithaa was Rs 34.76 crores. If Rs 13.50 crores, added by mistake, is deducted, the income would come to Rs 21.26 crores. But the assets of Jayalalithaa are Rs 37.59 crores, as accepted by the judge. There is still a difference of Rs 16.32 crores between the assets and actual income. But the judge stated that the difference came to only Rs 2.82 crores which is 8.12 per cent above the income. However, the special public prosecutor said that Rs 16.32 crores translated to assets is 76 per cent above the 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 a referendum in the Constitution and Parliament will not be allowed to interfere because both the main political parties, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will never agree to radical changes. Their real base is the middle class, that is 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 of 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 author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com