This is the story of one Serajuddin Ansari resident of Bikram, Distt Patna, Bihar. On 15.2.1984, he asked his mother for milk to which his mother answered that she could not bring it because he had not given her money for it. A minor altercation took place between the mother and son and on the spur of the moment, he picked up a stick used for stirring rice and struck her on the head due to which she died. He was arrested and remanded to judicial custody on 16.2.1984.
Thereafter, between 28.2.1984 and 14.10.1985, on 30 dates spread over a period of more than 20 months, roughly 600 days, Serajuddin was routinely remanded to judicial custody even while the Police failed to file the charge-sheet within the stipulated time. It is elementary that Section 167 Cr.P.C mandates that an accused is to be released on default bail if charge sheet is not submitted within 60/90 days but nothing happened.
Order sheet reveals that on 28.11.1985 the Investigating Officer filed a petition before the Magistrate that Serajuddin was mentally unbalanced and required treatment at Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH); so the Magistrate ordered likewise. However, he was produced before the Magistrate on next seven dates but not once did the Magistrate follow up his earlier order.
On 19.3.1986, the Magistrate took note of the application of the Investigating Officer and that the Doctor was of the opinion that Serajuddin was required to be admitted in the Hospital for a week and so he directed the Dy.SP to arrange an escort for him. Two days later Serajuddin was produced before the Magistrate and routinely remanded. This continued till 15.5.1986 on which date the Magistrate again directed the Dy.SP to arrange a Police escort for Serajuddin.
The escort was not provided; but the Magistrate took no action against the erring officials and instead routinely remanded Serajuddin on the next three dates.
For whatever it was worth, on 26.6.1986 the Magistrate seemingly having gone through the records, found that the charge sheet was not yet submitted in the case even though two years four months had elapsed and thus granted him bail u/s 167 Cr.P.C.
Needless to say, for obvious reasons Serajuddin was unable to furnish bail bonds and was not released from custody.
We know the law is that if a person is unable to furnish bail bonds he should be released on Personal Recognizance. But we also know that law, at most times, operates on a level which does not touch the lives of the needy.
To continue with the story, Serajuddin was continuously remanded by the Magistrate on next 22 dates till 23.7.1987 on which date, the Magistrate acceding to the request of the Phulwarisharif Jail Doctor that Serajuddin required specialized treatment at Ranchi Mental Asylum, directed that he be sent to the Mental Hospital but it appears that he was sent there more than 3 years later on 11.9.1990 .
Six months later on 29.5.1991, the Supdt. Ranchi Mental Asylum reported that Serajuddin was cured and arrangements be made for his return. A reminder was again sent by him on 14.6.1991 but he could return only 3 ½ years later on 4.12.1993.
Ten years after the occurrence finally on 22.1.1994, the case was committed to the court of session numbered as ST 917/94. On the next dates till 6.9.1995 either the Public Prosecutor(PP) was absent or the accused was not brought from jail and therefore charges could not be framed. When charges were to be framed on 6.9.1995, the Court noticed that Serajuddin was not behaving normally when charged; so he directed the Civil Surgeon to examine Serajuddin. Similar orders were passed on 18.104.22.168/ 20.1.1996/ 15.4.1996/23.2.1996/ 22.3.1996. Finally on 16.4.1996, a letter of the Civil Surgeon PMCH was placed before the Court that he was unable to assess the mental condition of Serajuddin and so he be sent to Ranchi Mental Hospital.
On 9.5.1996, the Trial judge directed the Supdt. Central Jail and the SP to make arrangements for his removal to Ranchi Mental Hospital but he was not sent there despite reminders dated 6.7.1996/13.8.1006/6.9.1996/4.10/1996. Thereafter the case stood transferred before another Judge on 29.11.1996 who adjourned the case for 14 dates till 10.2,1998 asking for production of witnesses even without framing of charges.
In an effort to put the case back on track on 23.2.1998, the case was posted for charge on 11.3.1998 on which date, Serajuddin was present but PP was absent; so no charge was framed. In the midst of all these perfunctory dates, on 26.6.1998, the court received a communication from Supdt. Central Jail that Serajuddin could not be sent to Ranchi for want of police escort.
On 23.9.1998, the Court noted Serajuddin was mentally fit to face trial and fixed the case for framing of charge. Serajuddin submitted that he was indigent and he be provided a lawyer from the panel. On the next few dates either Serajuddin was not produced from jail or the PP was absent but finally charges u/s 302 IPC was framed on 30.10.1998.
The Trial Court on 1.12.1998 noted that there was a direction from the High Court to expedite the trial; hence directed for production of witnesses. Finally on 4.1.1999, two witnesses were examined and statement u/s 313 was recorded and Serajuddin was acquitted of the charges on 12.1.1999.
He was also awarded compensation by Patna High Court in Cr WJC 717/1998 which had in the interim period directed for expeditious disposal of trial.
One may argue that the story of Sirajuddin is not an example of the general. Even conceding that his is undoubtedly a gross case but legal practitioners know for a fact that such examples abound on various scales and every scale, no matter how miniscule, upsets the notion of Justice and we know for sure nothing even close to what happened to Serajuddin would have happened to a moneyed person.
There is no doubt, that the case involve multiple complex problems and equally baffling solutions, but my observation is that most of the time a Judicial officer has no clue how many cases are pending in his Court. Record keeping is still a very neglected aspect of Court management despite active steps towards computerization. My experience as a High Court Judge was that there was a huge mismatch in the figures of cases entered in the computer and actual number of physical files. Data entry is on the basis of entries in multiple registers, though maintained, but not always updated. Figures of pendency of cases are therefore not reliable. This malady, only the Institution as a whole, can rectify. The institution will have to have a plan, a will to execute a concerted action, and have a lot of devotion to undertake this arduous task.
I would suggest that each High Court undertakes a vigorous exercise of physical verification of each record in every Court. I am aware that the present number of staff is woefully inadequate for such an exercise so my further suggestion is that retired experienced court staff be engaged for a fixed period of time for this purpose.
Further each Judicial Officer should be encouraged to get keep a list of cases in his Court with details as to at what stage, and, why the case was pending, as a ready reckoner. While conducting a similar exercise as an Inspecting Judge we found that that some cases were pending for many years even at the stage of argument.
Next is physical verification of Prisoners. Part of duty of every Distt Judge is to periodically inspect jails but due to his multiple duties, or lack of motivation he seldom does so. If inspections are conducted a lot of ills in the jails could be corrected.
Also, as per the Jail Manual, there is a system of appointment of Jail visitors who are meant to be from all walks of life and supposed to oversee general condition of jails, provisions of parole, calculation of remissions, which in most cases is arbitrary, and are required to report about the special needs of prisoners old and infirm etc. Most often than not, Board of Visitors which would ensure transparency are not appointed.
I had a unique experience in Patna. When I was in the initial and enthusiastic stage of practice as a lawyer I learnt that there were only 2 copies of Bihar Jail Manual available in the whole of Bihar - one was with the IG Prisons and another was with a PP who would just not part with it. The level of secretiveness about the working of jails and resistance to publishing Bihar Jail Manual was so great that it was only after months of struggle that we could finally get it published in 1999. .
Now that we have reached the end of the story, my question to the reader is, "Why are the likes of Serajuddin denied Justice?"
Yes, I heard your answer - It is not poverty of Serajuddin alone, though it is a major contributing factor, but the real reason is insensitivity.
The answer being correct, I like Betaal, return to my tree.
Author is a Senior Advocate at Supreme Court of India and a Former Judge of Patna High Court
Views Are Personal Only.