The Nandas are high up, but not high up enough
The verdict could well have turned differently had it not been for a tenacious public prosecutor who fought till the bitter end, writes Lalita Panicker.Updated: Sep 03, 2008, 22:11 IST
The heart-rending words of Phula Devi, wife of one of the policemen killed as the sentencing in the sensational BMW case was announced, said it all. “I am neither happy nor sad. I have left things to God.” While the families of the victims mowed down that night by Sanjeev Nanda and his friends find their lives changed forever with little hope of compensation, the judgement passed on the Wharton Business School graduate Nanda, scion of a wealthy arms dealer’s family, proves former justice J.S. Verma’s sentiments that howsoever high you may be, the law is higher than you. True, the case has dragged on for nine long years. The accused, his family and lawyers tried every trick in the book to get away with it. In a saga that could have come straight out of Jeffrey Archer book, witnesses who saw the BMW were later to say it was actually a truck, that Nanda was not in the car. As witnesses chopped and changed their testimonies, his lawyers used coercion and bribery to swing things in their favour. Yet, at the end of the day, as in the Jessica Lall and the Nitish Katara case, justice was done. The one consolation for the families of the victims is that Nanda has not got off with the lighter sentence normally awarded in hit-and-run cases, that of negligent driving which attracts a penalty of two years. The culpable homicide not amounting to murder charge can get him up to 10 years in prison.
The case throws up many disturbing facets of the criminal justice system, the main being the lack of protection for witnesses and the easy manner in which people get away with perjury. Much of this is facilitated by the painfully slow manner in which such cases are prosecuted. This gives time to unscrupulous elements to tamper with both evidence and witnesses. The Nanda verdict could well have turned out quite differently had it not been for a tenacious public prosecutor who fought to the bitter end after his predecessor was found colluding with the defence. Here again is a loophole in the system. The public prosecution system hardly works for the victims, which is why people like Phula Devi prefer not to even take up the fight. Nanda’s legal battle will continue. But one message has gone out once again from the courts. That no one can take it for granted anymore that their station in life will help them get away, literally, with murder.