Justice… Delayed, Hurried and Denied
Columns, In Black & White

Justice… Delayed, Hurried and Denied

On Tuesday, the Bareilly Court sentenced three men to five years in prison for stealing Rs. 370 from a man they drugged and robbed on a train in 1988, 29 years ago! And why did it take so long? Because one of them was absconding so the trial was constantly postponed. Now, of the three, one died in 2004 and the other two are senior citizens! Isn’t the anxiety and mental trauma caused due to the uncertainty of a verdict for 29 years punishment enough?

This reminds me of another heart-wrenching case of Umakanth Mishra. Umakanth worked in a post office in Harjinder Nagar area of Kanpur. Department authorities at the post office handed Umakanth Rs. 697.60 in cash to distribute as money order. Of the total Rs.697.60, Umakanth could distribute only Rs.300 and the rest he returned to his senior colleagues. But to his surprise the next day his senior colleagues accused him of stealing Rs.57.60 and lodged an FIR against him.

The Police booked Umakanth for criminal breach of trust on July 13, 1984. He was then suspended from his government job. The case went on… and on… And finally after nearly 30 years in Dec. 2013, Umakanth was absolved of the crime. Now when will government pay his arrears? Who will pay compensation for the trauma caused? Will the people who falsely accused him ever be punished?

Similarly, in Ludhiana Ashish Kumar was picked up by Police Officer Sumedh Singh Saini and taken away in a Police jeep. Ashish was never found after that! The CBI filed murder charges against Police Officer Sumedh Singh in 1994. Now twenty-three years have passed, the case is still going on and in all this time only 3 of the 36 witnesses have been heard in court! And 4 witnesses have died without being heard in court! During this time, the Officer facing the murder charge, Sumedh Singh, continued to be in Police service and even became the Director General of Punjab Police! While Ashish Kumar’s mother, now 94, continues her fight to get justice for her dead son!

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Justice is so delayed in our system that today courts, a place where one goes to get justice, has turned into a place where one goes to settle scores. From land deals to false dowry and rape cases, a court case is used as a mechanism not only to get justice but also to get “settlement.” This strategy has created backlogs and delayed justice.

Especially false rape cases, they not only waste the court’s time but worse, they delay justice to real rape victims as hearings are postponed to accommodate these false cases.

May be it’s time to fine and punish people who file false cases for personal gain. In Bengaluru, between 2014 and 2016, of the 2,190 complaints of molestation filed 151 were found to be fake. Most of them were result of personal rivalry, job-related issues and family disputes.

May be, while NGOs take the case of rape victims they must also fight against people who misuse this law. Only then will our Judiciary stop being used like a blunt instrument to cause mental trauma and blackmail the honest.

No wonder the Haryana State Commission for Women ordered the Police of all districts to book cases against women whose complaints are found false during investigation.

The Haryana Police were asked to take action under Section 182, CrPC, which states that “Giving false information, with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months.”

Also it’s time that Judges stop accepting frivolous Public Interest Litigations (PILs). Many PILs are more about “self interest” than “public interest,” like the one where a man claimed Priyanka Gandhi had married him or where a lawyer wanted Shah Rukh Khan punished for having held the National Flag upside down momentarily.

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But why are Judges admitting such PILs? Judges must be better at rejecting frivolous PILs. More importantly, we wonder if a Judge who accepts such cases, which clogs the system, can be wise, intellectual, rationale and just, the traits necessary for effective justice delivery.

Then there is the issue of “Justice Hurried.” India Today magazine along with Bengaluru-based research agency DAKSH has revealed that in Karnataka High Court the average time between hearings for a case is 78 days. Which means, if you are lucky you get 4 hearings a year and each hearing will last just 6 minutes! In Patna, a Judge hears a case for only 2 minutes; one wonders if justice truly can be delivered when you hear the case for just 2 minutes? Isn’t hurried justice also cause for denied justice?

Also when a person is acquitted after decades and after he has been kept in jail as an undertrial, there is no  compensation that the government pays for ruining his life.

Now, judiciary is the only hope in a chaotic democracy like ours where exploitation, power and influence play significant roles. Judiciary balances the power centres. So when Justice is delayed it is Justice denied…  and when denied too often… Justice dies… and with that… so will civil society.

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July 22, 2017

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