When his father passed away seven years ago, Judge Pramod Dattaram Kode attended the cremation, went home to change, and then proceeded straight to court.
Time and again, when those accused in the Bombay bomb blasts case wished to attend the funeral of a relative or take care of some urgent business on Sundays or other holidays, 57-year-old Kode never hesitated to go to court to grant them the permission to do so.
In the eleven years that he has been the judge of the special court hearing the case, Kode has not taken a single day off. He has recorded more than 14,000 pages of evidence and examined nearly 700 witnesses in the court attached to the high-security Arthur Road jail, where hardened criminals are sent. He took over as judge of the special court a year into the trial, which began 12 years ago, two years after a series of bombs ripped through Mumbai.
So far, Kode has declared 100 people guilty and acquitted the remaining 23 accused. He now faces the crucial task of sentencing those accused, including the film star Sanjay Dutt, starting from May 18. “I spend all my spare time at home,” said Kode, who cannot move freely as he has Z-plus security.
In September last year, Kode pronounced the most crucial verdict in the blasts trial — which came after 12 years of hearings and cross-examination — with a deadpan expression. For three months he read out the names of those guilty, describing in detail the charges for which they had been convicted. When Yakub Memon — the brother of key accused Tiger Memon — was pronounced guilty, Memon lashed out: “If you find me guilty, why are those indicted by the Srikrishna Commission walking free?” Kode let Memon finish, and then quietly told him the court was not the appropriate forum to air such grievances. He also found Sanjay Dutt guilty, but absolved him from charges under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).
But there’s also a soft side to Kode. He allowed one of the accused to go on Haj and another to visit the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer. He also allowed the accused to bring in table fans in the summer and let them watch patriotic films on Republic Day and Independence Day. “He allowed us to learn yoga, play chess, and set up a volleyball court in jail,” said Shahid Qureshi, an accused who has been convicted.
Kode began his career as a criminal lawyer in 1977 after graduating from the Government Law College in Mumbai. He became a public prosecutor in 1987 and four years later became a judge at the civil and sessions court. In 1993, he became the principal judge of the special court set up to look into cases registered under TADA. In 1995, he took over the blasts trial.
Kode is surprisingly superstitious. He believes in numerology, palmistry and astrology, and pronounces judgments only on special days. He is also a devotee of the Shirdi Sai Baba. When he gets time, he plays computer games and watches Hindi movies.
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