Idea of Justice
From Bhopal to Salman Khan
So the over 12 years old saga of Hit & Run Case involving Salman Khan appears to be over, with this judgement by additional sessions judge D.W. Deshpande, or so we thought. But that was not to be.
The, 6th May 2015, judicial order convicting actor Salman Khan for 5 years sentence under IPC section 304 Part II, and the jet speed interim bail and suspension of sentence, sparked a furious nation-wide debate.
He was convicted for the death of a person and 4 injured, while drunken driving on Sept. 28, 2002. It had taken close to 13 years to come to a considered status. It is another matter, it took less than 3 days to reverse it. This is an undeniable and bizarre dimension of our criminal justice delivery system.
Actor Salman Khan, after a booze session at a hotel in Juhu, in North West Mumbai driving at high speed in the early hours of 28th Sept 2002, had rammed into American Express bakery, while taking a sharp turn near his residence in Mumbai’s suburban Bandra. What he didn’t realise in his drunken state was, he ran over 5 persons sleeping outside the bakery on the pavement. One of them died and others badly injured. Accompanying Khan, were Ravindra Patil, a police body guard, sitting in the front seat along with the actor and Kamal Khan, a friend of Salman in the back seat. Reportedly, fearing public backlash, Salman fled the mishap scene, in another car arranged by a friend Francis Fernandese, leaving the dead and injured to fend for themselves. Thus it was a clear case of ‘HIT & RUN’.
Of course, the victims being poor, moneyless and powerless labourers and the accused, rich, powerful and politically connected managed it to his advantage with the help of both police and their political masters. With R R Patil, a protégé of Sharad Pawar, being the Home Minister, it helped the matter for the actor to influence the course of the case. How cold blooded was the approach of both police and its political masters was evident in the treatment of Ravindra Patil, one of their very own, who died unsung, after a bitter and courageous fight for truth.
Judicial apparatus, being what it is, it was probably planned to burry the case, as a case of ‘rash and negligent driving’, and prolong it as long as it was possible, with the help of both the legal fraternity, the judiciary and of course the police with connivance of its political masters. As far back as Dec. 2012, I & C had mentioned in its columns that accused Salman Khan was reportedly summoned 82 times by the Bandra Magistrate’s court since past 7 years, but did not attend even once, but found time to perform dance numbers at the police function during Diwali. Accusing Mumbai Police, IPS officer turned lawyer Y.P.Singh, that police is just not interested in securing the conviction of the actor, had reportedly asked “Who is the big boss of Mumbai Police, R R Pratil, the Home Minister or Salman Khan?” And it was the same RR Patil, who had stated on the floor of Maharashtra Assembly in July 2012, that “Conviction rate is worst in Maharashtra”, and why not? if there is no genuine intention to convict the accused! So you create two committees to go into “how to improve conviction rate” and the other to “ensure that acquittals come down”. Aren’t these both same! But his legislature colleagues are satisfied. And the system continues to go in circles with no end in sight. But unfortunately, for Salman Khan and other concerned, the court ordering retrial of the case in June 2013 with additional sessions judge insisting for the case to be taken up under section 304 of IPC to be treated as a case of ‘Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder’, the case turned turtle.
Now the tables having turned against Salman Khan, he resorted to all kinds of tricks of delaying besides blatant lying. Thus suddenly, after 12 years, a new driver Ashok Singh was parachuted into the scene, and that he only drank water in the bar, and that SUV had tyre burst and that ‘it was the police crane that caused death’, etc. According to lawyer Abha Singh, Kamal Khan, the 3rd occupant of the car when accident took place, had given his statement at the Bandra Police Station on Oct 4, 2002 that ‘Salman was driving the car and on the actor’s left was police constable Ravindra Patil, the body guard attached to the actor and he (Kamal Khan) was sitting in the rear seat.” Representing the petitioner Santosh Daundkar, a social activist, Abha Singh had demanded that Kamal Khan, being a star witness and since the other star witness had died in the meanwhile, Kamal Kahn ought to have been brought in. Thus it is a prosecution failure, according to her. Was he not brought in deliberately, to help the accused? Besides, here question arises, how did Ravindra Patil die? What precipitated his death? State police and the so-called honest Home Minister RR Patil, has lot to answer for this single act of silencing Ravindra Patil. This Home Minister Patil, should have been around to truly answer the mysterious end of Ravindra Patil.
In this whole sordid saga of attempting to run away from the justice, true heroes are additional sessions judge Deshpande and this deceased Ravindra Patil. Rest are all villains, from Salman Khan to Kamal Khan to Srikant Shirde to Harish Salve to Mumbai Police higher ups and of course the former Home Minister Patil, a member of Sharad Pawar’s NCP.
Of course, on a day, truth tried to triumph, it was silenced by the systemic rot we call our criminal judicial system. Idea of justice took a very serious beating. Mumbai Police under instruction from political bosses tried to pass this Hit & Run as a case of ‘negligent and rash driving’.
They even silenced the star witness and almost succeeded in their design. But that was not to be.
Like a THE WEEK put it “The Salman Khan hit & run is a classic example of how an open-and-shut case can be dragged for years just because the accused is a celebrity”. And I & C had commented as back as July 2013 in its Month-in-Perspective, “Isn’t it a joke of our criminal justice system that an open-and-shut case like this should have lingered for so long without the last word being said?”
Post conviction, there were plethora of extremely tasteless and insensitive responses from Salman Khan cronies, from “Why people had to sleep on the pavements, to dogs die dog’s death” etc. But then this is how India is for the most part. For those who are down and out they only end up as statistics.
Complaining the 5 years prison term, the defence argued that while Sanjeev Nanda, who killed 6, driving his yet to be registered brand new BMW got only 2 years and Alistair Pereira, who killed 7 and injured another 8, got only 3 years. It is indeed true that both the above cases were far more severe but got far less punishment. But then all cases are independent and therefore cannot be compared. In fact both the cases were fit cases for 10 years rigorous imprisonment with enough fine for compensation.
Sanjeev Nanda, a grandson of former Indian Navy Chief Admiral SM Nanda, had run into a Police check post in the early hours of Jan 10, 1999. Being a powerful, moneyed and politically connected, the systemic rot did not do justice to the cause. Despite the death of 6 men, including 3 policemen, the judges thought that he is very young, only 20, and a student of Wharton Business School, so how can court cut short his bright future! So what, 6 died under his wheels, became victims to his drunken driving! Because they were faceless, state, the ‘protector’ of aam aadmi, had no time for them.
We are told, that there are any number of young under trials for petty crimes like stealing as small as Rs: 200/- rotting in jails. Sensitivity of our judiciary, our legal fraternity and so also our system, is reserved only for the rich and powerful. And mind you like Salman Khan, this brilliant young but spoiled brat too had run away leaving the dead and the injured to fend for themselves. And society has all considerations for such characters. But then India has always been like this.
Equally spoilt brat, was Alistair Pereira from Bandra, who on 12th Jan 2006 ran over, under the influence of alcohol, 15 persons sleeping on the pavement in the Marine Lines area of South Mumbai. 7 of them were crushed to death and remaining all badly injured.
Usual paraphernalia of Panchanama, FIR, court case followed. The ‘learned’ session court judge in Mumbai, sentenced this inebriated young killer of 7 hapless poor men, for a mere 6 months in jail, exactly 15 months later on 15th April 2007.
It was not even a month for a life lost. This judgement was not merely insensitive but was down right cruel. It lampooned the dead.
There were 3 parties to the case, victims, who were poor and defencelss, police representing state could have made a case of culpable homicide but didn’t, then judiciary, which had a full knowledge of what happened, but decided in favour of the victim by compromising the heinous crime of drunk driving and killing 7 persons, as mere ‘rash and negligent driving’ and reduced the punishment to a mere joke by giving a 6 months prison term for this gruesome killing of 7.
Clearly the judgement was purchased. The accused goes to High Court, which enhances his prison term to 3 years. He again approaches the Supreme Court, which confirms the sentences of 3 years, but remarks “Sentence could not be enhanced as Maharashtra government had not filed any appeal to increase the jail term.” However, it was a speedy trial by any standard. It took just 3 years to complete the case, unlike Salman’s 13 years and still going, which God knows when shall it have the last word.
It was a very clear case of miscarriage of justice, as other two cases discussed earlier. If in their wisdom High Court in Mumbai increased the sentence, under culpable homicide charge, to 3 years from 6 months sentence of the session court, Supreme Court deliberated a higher sentence but didn’t act. The highest court of the land instead of acting decisively passed the buck on the state, which conveniently kept quite and failed to make this Alistair Pereira pay for his sins. May be he is well connected and after all who were the killed ones? Poor, faceless, defencelss & voiceless. It was as if, all were working for this powerful moneyed accused. State did not even enforce a modicum of fairness even in compensation of victims. And we accused Union Carbide and its chief Warren Anderson for not paying enough compensation to the victims of world’s worst industrial disaster in their pesticide factory in Bhopal. Haven’t our political class and the judiciary, even then 30 years ago, favoured the American giant Union Carbide, the powerful and moneyed, by returning the verdict of mere ‘negligence’ instead of man-slaughter, where some 20,000 were killed and half a million maimed. A.M. Ahmedi, the then Chief Justice of India, who delivered the highly controversial judgement was rewarded by the company, to head its trust in India, to oversee compensation and rehabilitation of the affected people.
Granting, the highly debatable bail to Salman Khan, Justice Thipsey had observed “This is not a case where I should keep him in jail till his appeal is heard and decided. We can’t take pleasure in seeing that someone is inside. Why should his rights suffer when his appeal is admitted and kept pending? In many cases people have suffered and spent their entire prison term only to be acquitted later by high court”. But excuse me Justice Thipsey, why such thoughts, concerns and reasonableness comes only when well connected moneyed well heeled people are involved? When it comes to those faceless millions within the jails across India, whose cry is lost in the wilderness of the compounded apathy and selfishness of all of us, including, judiciary and legal fraternity and not just the systemic rot, its dumb charade.
This is Yeh Mera India, where IDEA Of JUSTICE, is continuously being debated while its miscarriage goes on unhindered and uninterrupted only to favour the moneyed, powerful and well connected. Shall there ever be deliverance, from the troika, the political class represented by legislature, the executive represented by the police and the judiciary represented by the combined power of the legal fraternity and the courts! How can we call ourselves civilized, where poor and vulnerable are not protected?! Yes, as a nation we always spoke of inclusiveness but haven’t we always practiced exclusiveness! Oh poor Mother India!
Ravindra Patil – When truth failed to triumph
Ravindra Patil, the prime-witness in 2002 hit and run case, whose testimony played a decisive role in conviction of Superstar Salman Khan died a loner in a govt hospital under pathetic condition in 2007. The much awaited verdict came after twelve years of court hearings and legal hold-up with convoluted twists and turns like typical bollywood masala flick where key witnesses turned hostile and the prime witness lost his life. Here we are presenting heart wrenching tale of police constable-turned-commando Ravindra Patil who refused to change his statement in 2002 Salman Khan Hit-and-run case. Patil, who hailed from Maharashtra’s Satara district, joined the Mumbai Police as a constable and was trained as a commando to join the Special Operations Squad (SOS) which has a primary duty of guarding VIPs. In, 2002, Patil was assigned duty as Salman’s bodyguard, little did he know that it would seal his fate. In early 2002, following a police complaint by Salman Khan about the actor getting threatening calls from the underworld, the police concluded that there was a threat to the actor’s life. So they assigned the then 24-year-old constable Ravindra Patil as Salman’s unarmed bodyguard, to protect him everywhere. Little did he know that it would seal his fate and continue to haunt Salman for the rest of his life. On the fateful night, Patil was with the actor when the accident took place. It was in fact Patil who had filed the first information report. In his statement, Patil had told the court, “On September 28, 2002, I was attached to the protection branch. I was deputed as Salman Khan’s bodyguard and was to remain with him. They came out at 2.15am. When the accused sat behind the wheel, I asked him whether he would be driving the car. He ignored me. The accused was driving the car at a speed of 90-100km/hour. Before reaching the Hill Road junction, I told the accused to slow down as a right turn was coming up. He ignored me again. The accused lost control of the car while taking a turn and drove right on to the footpath.”
Patil had told the court that the car crashed into American Express bakery and broke its shutter. “There was a lot of shouting and people had gathered around us. I showed my identity card and told the crowd I was a policeman, which pacified them. The accused and Kamaal ran away from the spot. I went to the car to check and saw that one person was seriously injured. There were four others who were stuck under the car.” Patil said he was the one who called the police control room and then lodged a complaint with the Bandra police. “The incident took place because the car was in speed and the accused, in a drunken state, could not control the car while taking the turn,” he had said. During the trial, it was clear to everyone, the only solid evidence that the police had, was Patil’s eye-witness account. There were a total of 27 witnesses in the case, but Patil was the prime witness who could turn the case around. Being junior officer (constable) in the powerful Mumbai Police, it went against Patil. He was also systematically isolated by his own department. He started abstaining from duty and would spend time away from Mumbai. In 2006, when it was Patil’s turn to give his testimony in the court, he disappeared. Those close to him said that since he was isolated he did not have the courage to stand in the court. They also said, his own Mumbai Police force did not stand by him when they should have ensured that being a prime witness and a policeman he should be protected. But, none of that happened and Patil continued to abstain from court. In fact, when he disappeared, a missing complaint was also filed by his brother. Rumours were afloat with news of Patil being pressurised to stay away from the trial. Police informed the court that even they were unaware of Patil’s whereabouts. Based on this information, the court issued a warrant against Patil and ordered the police to arrest him. Mumbai Police dealt a double whammy to Patil by dismissing him from service on the charges of going on leave without permission. When Patil was finally found in a hotel in Mahabaleshwar, his very own department promptly arrested him for his failure to appear for five consecutive court dates and sent him to jail. No one paid any heed to the fact why Patil was missing and did not appear in the court. The same person who was so forthcoming and himself lodged an FIR against Salman Khan. Here again, Patil may have never imagined that he would be arrested in the very case in which he was a complainant and had himself registered an FIR. Ironically, when Patil finally deposed in the case in March 2006, he was still in jail. It can only be imagined what must have gone through a policeman who is a trained commando but ended up in a dingy cell of Arthur Road jail in a case in which he is a prime witness. After being released from jail, Patil again went missing. No one, including his family, knew about his whereabouts. There are reports that he had gone to his mother’s place in Dhule district. In the interim period, he was dismissed from the police department. This meant that his salary was stopped and he was left without any job. He even reportedly got divorced from his wife after being released from jail. Patil later even claimed that his family had abandoned him. In September 2007, months after he had gone missing, Patil was discovered in the Sewri TB hospital. Such was his physical condition that at first no one recognised him nor did anyone know that he was the prime witness in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case. He was reduced to a pile of bones and weighed a mere 30 kg. He was battling drug resisting TB with little hope of survival.
Doctors said that due to the huge pressure that Patil had undergone in five years, his body was unable to cope up with stress any further and he had developed a strain of TB which had turned fatal. He succumbed to the disease on October 4, 2007. – Global Network via FB