INDIA’S ARGUMENT AT ITLOS AND UPHAAR VERDICT

“We will ask them to pay Rs 30 crore each… that’s it. We will give our reasoning tomorrow. A detailed order will be pronounced tomorrow.” – Indian Express

The Supreme Court bench summed up its conclusion – while reducing the jail terms of Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal – in the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy that took 59 lives and left around 100 injured.

Irrespective of the reasons behind it, the decision saw widespread disappointment with analyses pointing that ‘life cannot be compensated with money.’

The Ansal brothers, owner of Uphaar Cinema, and others were first imprisoned for two years (by the trial court), then for one year (by the high court) and then were finally let off with their ‘already served’ some five months jail period.

Obviously, it is to be seen that what made the top court reach at this decision – in a trial that lasted for 18 years – where expensive lawyers of Ansals were on side and a long agonizing wait of the victims on the other side – but the central government must appeal against it without delay.

The CBI must file the review petition as soon as possible – with the sole aim to compensate the delay so far.

It becomes all the more important, with hopes rekindled, after India’s official response at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at Hamburg (ITLOS) during hearing in Italian marines trial case.

”Murders are not compensable offences under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code”, said India’s legal representative Alain Pellet there.

He added – “I cannot help being troubled and (am) quite disturbed by Sir Daniel offer (Italy’s counsel), which I feel to be a kind of proposal to buy impunity for the two marines who stand accused of murder.” – New Indian Express

The case dates back to February 2012 when two Italian marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Lattore, in the security detail of merchant ship Enrica Lexie, had shot dead two Kerala fishermen off the Kerala coast.

Italy gave compensation to the families affected and they dropped the case but India’s central government didn’t budge – in spite of Italy’s delaying tactics and in spite of Italy’s duplicity to move back from its ‘sovereign word’ as India argued, as India experienced after Italy breached the trust by refusing to send back marines from Italy to India after India’s Supreme Court had allowed them to go back to Italy to participate in polls there.

ITLOS suspended the trial in India in its order till the next date but it also didn’t accept Italy’s pleas. One marine that is India, will remain in India.

Similar spirit is needed by the central government and its investigating agencies in cases like Uphaar Cinema fire where trials languish for years for reasons that, in fact, don’t stand as ‘reasons’ for an intelligible and neutral mind.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

TWO DISTURBING DEVELOPMENTS ON WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY

August 19 is ‘observed’ as World Humanitarian Day. Yesterday was August 19.

Yesterday, on August 19, we had two developments that, we can say, left us in bitter taste.

And to add to the misery, one came from an institution that is often seen as the last resort to get justice in India – the Supreme Court.

Read this:

“I am very much disappointed. 18 years back, I lost faith in God and 18 years later, I lost faith in judiciary. One thing which I have realised is that the court of law is not same for the rich and the poor. Rich people can get away by paying money but for ordinary citizens, judiciary is different. Had it been the lives of children of politicians and judges, justice would have been done within a year. Judiciary “cannot understand the plight of a mother who has stood 18 years before the court to get disappointment. Nobody cares about ordinary people but rich and powerful get away.”

These words from a frustrated mother are symbolic of a larger (and deepening) mindset in our society (getting wider realization with every such development). The mother, Neelam Krishnamurthy, had lost two of her children in the 1997 fire in Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema that had killed 59 people.

Verdicts in the case, including this one yesterday in the Supreme Court, clearly tell owners were responsible and thus Ansals, the owners, were directly culpable.

And under a legal system, where our Constitution sees rightful interest of even one life above all else, the loss of 59 lives by ‘criminal negligence’ and ‘administrative manipulation’ should have called for a harsher punishment.

But, here it was no punishment at all and for people like Ansals who are billionaires – (an ordinary Indian may not earn Rs. 1 crore in his entire life) a sum of 60 crore doesn’t mean much – if it can buy them freedom from the legal procedure.

We don’t know what led to this decision-making that will certainly set a precedent, but its message in masses has certainly not gone well – with many equating this decision as ‘inhumane’. And incidentally (and accidently), the decision came on World Humanitarian Day.

On the same day, the news of a similar disturbing development came from West Bengal. According to a news channel, doctors of West Bengal’s main hospital in Kolkata, indicted in report of causing death of a teenager (medical negligence), were ‘let off only a warning’.

Here we need to keep in mind that West Bengal’s health portfolio is with chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.

But efforts and desperate pleas of economically poor parents fell to deaf ears. Even a case has not been registered yet in this ghastly crime against humanity – where a child was denied her ‘right to life’ in an ‘absolute’ way. And this medical negligence case is not the first one in West Bengal, or in India. And sadly, it will not be the last one.

The two development on World Humanitarian Day came as shockers – with varying degrees gloominess.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Uphaar Cinema Fire case is potent enough to set a precedent where high and mighty will feel above the law by being able to buy anything with their riches.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ says the common saying and the Uphaar case can rightly be placed in the league where justice is denied by frustrating the victims who had lost their family members – 18 years is a long time – a further victimization.

Legal remedy is an expensive affair in our society, especially in higher courts, i.e., High Court and Supreme Court – and with the Supreme Court’s decision, the notion has got reaffirmed again. Ansals could afford the best legal minds (with their deep pockets) and the case was delayed to a disturbing wait of 18 years.

And what happened, even after 18 years, rubbed salt into the wounds of the victims. Everything cannot be purchased or compensated with money or material means, especially a person’s life – our Constitution is based on that – and here, the society lost its 59 people – and there was no physical punishment but a monetary fine.

The two developments yesterday were potently, symbolically anti-humanitarian, anti-thesis, to the underlying concept of World Humanitarian Day that says – “It’s a day to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world”.

Well, we need humanitarian feelings first – and acts to inspire and inculcate action, driven by such feelings – something that was hit hard yesterday.

Hope, it will not go unnoticed. Hope, the developments that were thrust upon us, will see a different, humanitarian finality in the days to come.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/