In India, life is cheap. But as cheap as Rs 27?
Though I never had any doubt about the north of India being a ‘might is right’ world - ‘boorish’ and ‘uncivilised’, as some of my Calcutta friends say every time I meet them — I was still stunned to read what happened at the Kheri Daula toll plaza in south Gurgaon, Haryana, on September 23.
A 22-year-old plaza attendant, Umeshkant Pandey, was shot dead by two men because he had asked them to pay Rs 27, the expressway user charge.
Newly-married Pandey belonged to a poor family from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, and was on his first city job. But that small town to big city dream was over after the two accused, Vijay Veer and Manjit Singh, decided that night to teach Pandey a lesson - even though the toll booth attendant had let them go without paying the charge.
Most alarmingly, the position of the CCTV camera was such that instead of focusing on registration plates, it was used to keep tabs on whether the attendants were filching cash.
Now that the two have been arrested and remanded in custody, the law will probably take its own course.
‘Probably’ because there have been umpteen number of cases in which the accused (mostly the moneyed and the well-connected) have got away by hiring heavy duty lawyers and bribing everyone around. This could happen in this case too, although I suspect that the ‘moneyed’ and the ‘well-connected’ tags as we understand them in urban India will not go well with the two toll booth killers.
And in any case, a long-drawn-out case is enough to sap everyone’s — the media’s included — energy. But there could also be enormous pressure on Pandey’s family to withdraw the case, with monetary inducements thrown in.
I won’t be surprised if Pandey’s family accepts this arrangement. I wouldn’t blame them either.
The toll company has also promised to compensate Pandey’s family, increasing the amount after media pressure. But they could start by re-adjusting those CCTVs so that they point towards the cars and by employing security for those manning the booths.
There are already signs that it’s back to business as usual, four days after the murder.
I certainly find no no perceptible change in security. In fact, the staff at the plaza has steadily decreased over time.
“Sometimes, we have only one line assistant at night whereas we started with around 63,” said an employee to a reporter. The scene is not very different at other toll gates.
So what about putting a little more pressure on the expressway companies to do the needful? Such cases happen because there is absolutely no fear of the law or of any punishment.
Which is why it’s so important to make this case an example so that people like Vijay Veer will think twice before taking out their gun to shoot anyone on our roads.
But will a jail term be enough for what the two did with utter ease?
A reader reacting to the news item suggested that the property of the two should be auctioned and the money handed over to Pandey’s family. A wild idea? I don’t think so. It’s definitely not as wild as the murderous deed that preceded it.