21 Nov 2007

Justice delayed is justice denied?

1997: The turbulent year with Indian politics dwindling to find a leader. No one sure of where the political system would lead to...
And then we have June 13, 1997; a warm Friday with flurry of activities going on, in anticipation of a week-end. South Delhi, as usual buzzing with the crowd making way from AIIMS to Hauz Khas and people enjoying the 1971 at the Indo-Pak border in "Border", the highly sensitive movie which really struck a cord in the heart of every Indian. And then we have a fire, a huge one, engulfing the entire "Uphaar". Much has been said about it since, so much so that even wikipedia has an entry on that. But I want to mean something from it.
It has been more than a decade now. But the legal battle between the survivors of the victims and those at fault for the incident still lingers on. It has already seen two rounds of litigation with the case being presently decided on by the Additional Sessions Judge in Delhi.
The facts are not really of essence here. The essence is that the credibility of the system is at stake. But then one is reminded of the deadly gas-tragedy which took place in 1984 in Bhopal by the leaking of methyl isocynide (every law student knows that) from the plant of Union Carbide India. And what was tragic that the Government of India, submitted an affidavit (i.e. swearing on oath on behalf of the entire country) before a District Court of New York (from where Union Carbide hailed) that the Indian legal system was not competent enough to deal with the issue. [I am not really sure as to how many know that but that really happened.] And that Court ruthlessly disagreed with what the Government of India said on oath and threw out the case from its docket, stating that it would not take into account a matter which did not take place within its jurisdiction. Legally correct, but hurting the self pride of all Indians !!!
But that is not essentially I am taking to emphasize upon. The thrust is that the victims of the tragedy have not yet been compensated after more than two decades of a settlement having reached and Union Carbide paid the Indian government for its alleged acts of negligence and mass torts.

Justice looks grim in this system. You can commit a crime and then be swayed away from the clutches of the legal system for decades [for example the decision of the Bombay blasts of 1994 having come out in 2007 with the procedure of appeals, revisions, reviews etc. still to have their role in the procedure] till finally a day would come, when the witnesses would have vanished [any one remembers Satyendra Dubey, a government engineer who exposed corruption in the national highway building program and then was killed mysteriously???], the victims and their survivors paid, intruded or persecuted [to remind oneself of the various stages the Jessica Lal murder trial has witnessed] and no one really interested, except the press ofcourse, of the outcome of the case.

The Supreme Court itself has more than 45,000 cases pending before it. What to speak of High Courts and then the trial courts and tribunals etc. There is no point really guessing when the outcome of a case would be out. It could be years, decades, or even more. I am a lawyer myself and in this short stint that I have laid my hands of briefs, I have already handled many which were filed even before I was born. Can't help the poor litigants really. You feel for them for some time and then you gradually take it on as a hard reality of the system and take that for granted.

Lot has been said over the pendency of judicial appointments and the looming vacancies in the judicial system we carry, but that is no comfort to the litigant. Someone has to and something has to be really done, before 'justice delayed is justice denied' may become the norm than the exception that it really is...

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