DP Yadav has been acquitted some thirty years after the crime he allegedly committed took place. In between, he was declared guilty and was out on bail. Now, the other side is planning to appeal the acquittal. In terms of the human lifespan, this could go on forever. Ditto with regard to the accused in the Uphaar fire tragedy, which took place in 1997 – the accused have been facing a similar cycle of acquittals and convictions. There are to be further appeals.
These are just two recent cases that have re-emerged from the thousands that have continued for over three decades in India’s courts. There are repeated calls for a top-down overhaul of the Judiciary but to no avail and, now, the ordinary people have given up any hope of it taking place in their lifetime. With such a major shortcoming in the system, people have to devise ways to go around the blockage, which naturally distorts the way society functions. This is not just in the case of criminal matters – it is the same on the civil side – land ownership, defamation, tax issues, payment and debt conflicts, divorce, etc. Recourse has to be taken to extra-constitutional mechanisms to arrive at any kind of resolution so that life may go on. This is one of the major reasons why India has not been able to break through the barrier to become a ‘developed’ nation, despite its enormous potential.
While a common citizen would face these anomalies maybe a few times in a lifetime, think of what the law enforcement authorities have to endure on a daily basis. It is the rare investigating officer who can hope to bring a case to its logical conclusion during his or her tenure. A case may see several changes of prosecutors and judges before it reaches a conclusion even in the lower courts. How then does a police officer get the job done on ground zero in anything like an effective manner, particularly in the case of the rich and the powerful whose lawyers know all the circuitous ways of denying justice? That there is still some semblance of civilised functioning in the chowkis and thanas is a miracle in itself. At the same time, however, deeply ingrained parallel systems have also become the norm by which matters are disposed of – often in the darkness of the night, with all that it implies. This leads to the kind of bizarre situation in which the accused becomes a hero and the investigator the target – as in the recent Aryan Khan case. All the people can hope for is a miracle, and the skill to remain out of the clutches of the law.