Behind bars, some are more equal than others
While many rich and powerful convicts get quick bail, hundreds of undertrials are languishing in prison because an over-burdened judiciary does not have the resources to cater to them all
Speaking at a function organised as a part of the Bar Council of India’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “If we focus on a policy-driven governance, if there is good governance, pendency of cases will be reduced.” He further said, “Numerous litigations are filed by people against the Government as there is no clear policy on many issues.” Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Mr Modi said, “Justice should reach unto the last man of the society”.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data, courts have 84 per cent pendency in criminal cases on an average, and over 60 per cent of the cases take more than a year for trial to be completed. As many as 41,670 cases take more than 10 years while 1.7 lakh cases take between five to 10 years for the trial to be completed.
A common man has to spend about three months in jail, before getting bail. According to Government data, over 60 per cent of undertrials spend more than three months in jail before they can secure a release. The prolonged incarceration is due to the inability of these undertrials to get bail. Close to 1.75 lakh of 2.78 lakh undertrials are facing criminal charges and unable to secure bail before three months.
Over 40 per cent (1.1 lakh) of undertrials take more than six months to secure bail, while over 30,000 spend more than two years and over 64,000 spend more than one year in jail before they are released on bail. A leader in the Opposition, who ruled the country for about five decades before the present Government came to power, has alleged that the present NDA Government has failed on all fronts — as if his party members, who are facing corruption charges in court, were all angels and white as snow!
It is a fact that there have been a chain of scams starting with the Jeep scam, the LIC scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Bofors scam, the 2G Spectrum scam, the ‘Coalgate’ scam, the ‘Railgate’ scam, the Adarsh Cooperative Housing scam that occurred during the long reign of the Congress. The only exception is Mr Mamohan Singh, an impeccably honest Prime Minister, that the Congress was able to produce. This writer holds no brief for any political party. It is true that there are many men of principle in all political parties but there is no party of principle.
All over the world, in order to become a master, politicians pose as the servant of the people till they inveigle the people to vote for them and they finally win the elections. It is for this simple reason that they, in case of a fraud, by them or their political supporters, can manage to delay cases and avoid nemesis. This equally applies to the rich and the famous who manage to escape the clutches of the law. This is what happened in the case of Bollywood actor Salman Khan, who was involved in the 2002 hit-and-run case. Many top politicians from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu too fall in the same category.
The Law Commission in its 2012 report said, “The cases of influential persons in public life need to come up for special focus for the reason that the experience shows, occurrence of long delays both in investigation and trial. This is because of the influence they can wield with the Police and witnesses. Delays are also often caused by their prolonged abstinence from the court proceedings and the Police not taking effective steps to produce them in the court”.
Public offices have a role to play in democratic governance and the people have legitimate expectations that their elected representatives will be clean and free from criminal misconduct. Thus, the public is equally interested in the early conclusion of trial. The cloud cast on the politicians should not linger on for years and decades.
In this context it is useful to refer to observations made by the Supreme Court in the case of Ganesh Narayan vs S Bangarappa. The court said, “The slow motion becomes much slower motion when politically powerful or high and influential persons figure as accused”. In another case, the apex court also said: “Courts are less to blame than the code made by Parliament for dawdling and Government are guilty of denying or delaying basic amenities for the judiciary to function smoothly. Justice is a cinderella in our scheme. Even so, leaving VVIP accused to be dealt with by the routinely procrastinating legal process is to surrender to interminable delays as an inevitable evil. Therefore, we should not be finical about absolute processual equality and must be creative in innovating procedures compelled by special situations”.
On May 1, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice noted that against a total sanctioned strength of 1,017, permanent and additional judges for High Courts, there are only 651 judges in position. Concerned over a backlog of more than three crore cases in courts across the country, Chief Justice of India HL Dattu, in December 2014, had asked the Chief Justices of all High Courts to ensure expeditious disposal of cases pending for five years or more.
Chief Justice Dattu has written a letter to all High Court Chief Justices asking them to look into the dockets of cases pending for five or more years in subordinate judiciary of all States. According to data available with the apex court, the number of pending cases with the Supreme Court is 64,919 as on December 1, 2014. The data available for the 24 High Courts and lower courts up to the year ending 2013 showed pendency of 44.5 lakhs and whopping 2.6 crores, respectively. Of the over 44 lakh cases pending in the 24 high courts of the country, 34,32,493 were civil and 10,23,739 criminal.
The maximum pendency of civil and criminal cases together was in Allahabad High Court with 10,43,398 cases while the minimum was in Sikkim with 120 cases pending at the end of 2013. The Delhi High Court had a total of 64,652 cases pending before it. The Allahabad High Court had the maximum number of pending criminal cases at 3,47,967.
Of the 2.6 crore cases pending in lower courts, Uttar Pradesh subordinate judiciary tops the chart with over 56 lakh cases pending by the end of 2013, out of which 41,98,761 are criminal matters. Delhi district courts recorded a total of 5,22,167 pending cases, including 3,81,615 criminal cases. Mr Dattu has suggested for expeditious disposal of cases, by setting up a special ‘social justice bench’ to deal with the pendency of cases having social issues which are on rise and needs specialised approach. He has also emphasised on the disposal of petty cases through Lok Adalats.
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