Those who are rich enough…

… don’t get convicted in India however heinous offence they commit. That was the perception in India. Will that change any soon? What are the government and judiciary doing to change that picture of justice in India? Some of the questions that are to be answered. Even after “the landmark judgement” today!

Sanjeev Nanda has been held guilty today for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, under section 304(2) of IPC, by a Delhi Trail Court in one of the most high profile cases of the last two decades, in which Nanda is accused to have run over and killed six people, including three policemen, in a drunken state when he drove his BMW car at high speed through a police checkpoint. He can get upto ten years of rigorous sentence. The court also convicted three others, businessman Rajeev Gupta and his two employees Bhola Nath and Shyam Singh for destruction of evidence. Nanda’s friend, Manik Kapoor, who assessed the `damage’ with him has been acquitted by the court.

A brief history of the famous trial

The incident occurred at very early morning of January 10, 1999. After running through the policemen, he allegedly stopped the car to assess the damage, saw people he ran over, and drove away. The car was later cleaned up by servants at a friend’s house. Subsequently Sanjeev and five others were tried in a high profile court case that dragged on for many years. In an earlier decision, the court did not find any of the witnesses reliable and the defense was able to make the case that it was perhaps a truck and not the BMW that had caused the deaths. All the accused were released, resulting in a sharp drop in public confidence in the legal system, since it was widely believed that the witnesses had been bought off.

A brief history of Nanda family

Sanjeev Nanda is the grandson of an ex-Chief of Naval Staff-turned businessman from New Delhi. Sanjeev’s father, (Ex) Lt. Cmdr Suresh Nanda, heads the arms supply firm Crown Corporation. His grandfather  (Ex) Admiral S. M. Nanda was once India’s Chief of Naval Staff. Sanjeev Nanda is a management graduate from INSEAD and Wharton.

There have been debates and doubts on Nanda family and the source of its wealth. One year after the incident, some tapes revealed possible influence by Lt. Cmdr. Suresh Nanda and Admiral Nanda might have had with the Indian Ministry of Defence in swinging arms deals. These tapes were the result of a clandestine sting operation and are not admissible as evidence in court. However, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested R. K. Jain in February 2006 in connection with its own investigations spurred by the Tehelka tapes.

In these tapes, the reporter poses as a representative of the fictional large arms supplier West End. At one point, the Samata Party national treasurer R. K. Jain tried to convince Tehelka about his prowess in swinging deals. He mentions how in the first defense deal that he was involved in as the party treasurer, Suresh Nanda of Crown Corporation had paid Samata Party Rs. 1 crore to swing the US$ 60M order for Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) in favour of a Slovakian company.

Jain also said to have received another Rs. 1 crore for the Samata Party from Suresh Nanda to help swing the contract for an air to air and surface to surface missile system for the Indian Navy. Nanda was an agent for the Israeli Barak missile system. In March 2008, Sanjeev Nanda and his father were arrested in Mumbai in connection with the Barak Missile Scandal.

The trial aftermath

The families of victims, having been dragged for justice for 10 years, still believe that Nanda will eventually be acquitted in a higher court by the prowess of his wealth and influence. Their doubts are not baseless. Barring last couple of years, the justice in India has been the mistress of the rich. The trial and the way it has been carried out in its entire nearly 10 year history raises several questions; one is asked right at the start of this post. Is justice easily accessible to the middle-class and the poor, the less influential common people? This also speaks a mouthful about the efficiency of the judicial process in India. A case that was pending for 10 years just in the Trial Court! How much time will it take to come with a verdict out of the highest body, the Supreme Court of India, where it will eventually go to, considering the financial status of the defense? Simple guess: 10 years in High Court and 10 years in Supreme Court in front of several levels of benches. No justice 30 years after a crime was committed.

Justice delayed means justice denied.

The other possibility, that Nanda is innocent, though cannot be denied. In that case also, the justice still remains denied!

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