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The powerful get convicted too

The conviction of Vikas and Vishal Yadav, son and nephew of politician DP Yadav in the Nitish Katara case, only shows the continuing trend in high profile cases, reports Harish V. Nair.
Hindustan Times | By Harish V. Nair, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2008 11:22 PM IST

The conviction of Vikas and Vishal Yadav, son and nephew of Uttar Pradesh politician and strongman DP Yadav in the Nitish Katara case only shows the continuing trend in high profile cases. This conviction proves the rich and influential cannot get away with just anything.

The outrage after the acquittal of all the accused, including Vikas Yadav, in the Jessica Lal murder case became a turning point in the history of Indian criminal justice system. It had, in some way or the other, affected the trial of other high-profile cases.

Agrees Justice V.S. Mallimath who is famous for his recommendations on reforming criminal justice system: "The Jessica verdict was an eye-opener and the public outrage only shows that the Indian public will no longer remain silent spectators to police sluggishness, shoddy trial and hostile witnesses. Everything is going to be under the public scanner. Being rich or influential is not a passport to immunity."

How did it help the Katara murder case? "For three years from 2003, the trial had hit a roadblock owing to the refusal of prosecution's key witness and Nitish's sister Bharti Yadav (to depose in the case). The defence used every trick in the bag to prevent her from coming. Even the prosecution did not show much interest. But suddenly they took all the steps - including revocation of her passport and threats to impound her property -- to force her to come to India and depose in the case. She finally flew down from the UK and testified," said Kaushik Dey, counsel for Nitish's mother Neelam Katara.

Incidentally, Bharti's testimony formed the basis of the conviction as it went on to prove the motive. "Yes. The wave continues," said Chamanlal Mattoo, father of Priyadarshini Mattoo who was raped and murdered by Santosh Kumar Singh. "I was waiting for the day when Jessica, Priyadarshini and Nitish get justice. Today is the day," he added. After a similar campaign for justice, the CBI had brought out the appeal in the Mattoo case from a six-year-old cold storage. The high court fast tracked the hearing and sentenced Santosh to death.

The existing mood was aptly summed up by D.C. Mathur, Vikas's lawyer, while he was arguing a bail application recently in the high court: "It seems the new criminal justice rules are being authored by Jessica Lall posthumously."

Former IPS official R.K. Sharma's conviction in the Shivani murder case was another instance. A lower court, pronouncing the verdict on the role of underworld don Babloo Srivastava and businessman Nitin Shah in a murder case four months after the Jessica case acquittals, convicted them though most of the witnesses, including widow of the deceased, turned hostile. The two were, however, later acquitted by the high court. Former Union minister Shibu Soren was sentenced to life imprisonment by a lower court on November 28, 2006, on charges of murdering Shashi Nath Jha, his former personal secretary. But the high court acquitted him for want of evidence.

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