Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news
www.barandbench.com
Apprentice Lawyer

#Apprentice A law student’s tryst with the criminal justice system

Bar & Bench

Vinodh V Krishna

Chennai Beach railway station is where one alights to reach the Madras High Court located right opposite. For the uninformed, it is adjacent to the road on which Krish Malhotra aka Arjun Kapoor strolls past a white building (Parry’s corner) while in Chennai, in the ‘2 States’ movie.

The railway police randomly stopped those who crossed the track to reach the platform. Most were let off while the unlucky few were escorted to the nearby police station. Let alone the guidelines of DK Basu on arrest, here began a series of procedural lapses which are thoroughly illegal!

“Fair trial, due procedure, rule of law, natural justice, social contract!” I have had enough of these drab theories. A sabbatical from law school where ‘journalist is a legal ignoramus’ is repeated ad nauseam, prodded me to take the plunge and investigate the ground reality to have a hands-on experience with our criminal justice system and test my journo-legal skills.

I joined the crowd, crossed the track and deliberately flouted the law. Did the police stop me? They did. The lucky ones who crossed the track beside me managed to go unnoticed*. I comprehended a new meaning of Article 14 (did you hear all citizens are equal before law?) – one that is never taught in the hallowed walls of a classroom. Selective observation is as big a fallacy in policing like in research. Am I an easy target?

Mr. Ayyanar of the RPF would be able to answer that better.

After an hour long wait, the police took into their possession our ID cards and mobile phones. “Can I leave paying a ‘penalty’?” I asked. “No, you have to pay it in the court,” replied the lady cop who took my signature after recording my particulars.

Paraded to the rickety, dingy Metropolitan Magistrate Court in George Town, named after King George of England. The erstwhile Presidency town is indeed replete with colonial legacy just like our archaic and immutable laws, where walls have turned into spittoons. I asked myself, should I rebut the charge before the judge? After all, where is the evidence to prove that I crossed the track?

I remembered that ethically (in legal parlance), mendacious exhortations and rhetoric of denying a true fact, act or an event is something I ought to reserve while defending my client. Alas, I had also signed above the word “accused” on the insistence of police without being informed about the contents of the document but with a verbal caveat not to argue*. Those who did, incurred the wrath of the cops.

What am I supposed to tell the magistrate? Well, the police had tutored all of us to say ‘yes’ to any question put by the judge*.

For those who blinked, the reprimand from the cops was standard. “Can’t you utter your particulars clearly without any doubt? Is he (the lordship) a lord?” Only a few minutes earlier, the protocol of saluting the Magistrate had been completed by the same police with due diligence.

The ordeal

Humid, sweltering Chennai right opposite the Madras port – where you sweat and shirts become wet at the drop of the hat, where monsoon clouds parsimoniously shower as late as November for not more than a week, lunch foregone after being detained by the police, a four hour long endurance to complete the “due procedure.” ‘When will I get to leave?’ was on top of everyone’s mind after this harrowing experience.

“No one in my family had ever stepped their foot inside a court.”

“I should tell my boss that I was stuck in traffic. But will he buy a four hour long jam story? How will I convince him?”

“Is crossing the track so serious an offence to be produced in the court?”

“All I have is little money for the day’s expenses. How will I reach back home once I pay the fine?” were the lamenting voices I could hear amongst those who stoically suffered outside the court hall.

What was the crime?

Trespass.

Under which Act?

Now, Section 147 in The Railways Act, 1989 reads,

147. Trespass and refusal to desist from trespass.—

(1) If any person enters upon or into any part of a railway without lawful authority, or having lawfully entered upon or into such part misuses such property or refuses to leave, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both: Provided that in the absence of special and adequate reasons to the contrary to be mentioned in the judgment of the court, such punishment shall not be less than a fine of five hundred rupees.

(2) Any person referred to in sub-section (1) may be removed from the railway by any railway servant or by any other person whom such railway servant may call to his aid.

What is the penalty to be paid?

A maximum of Rs. 1,000.

What was the actual case registered?

Nuisance.

Under what provision?

Section 145 in The Railways Act, 1989

145. Drunkenness or nuisance.—If any person in any railway carriage or upon any part of a railway—

(a) is in a state of intoxication; or

(b) commits any nuisance or act of indecency or uses abusive or obscene language; or

(c) wilfully or without excuse interferes with any amenity provided by the railway administration so as to affect the comfortable travel of any passenger, he may be removed from the railway by any railway servant and shall, in addition to the forfeiture of his pass or ticket, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months and with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees: Provided that in the absence of special and adequate reasons to the contrary to be mentioned in the judgment of the court, such punishment shall not be less than—

(a) a fine of one hundred rupees in the case of conviction for the first offence; and

(b) imprisonment of one month and a fine of two hundred and fifty rupees, in the case of conviction for second or subsequent offence.

Penalty imposed by the police?

Rs. 100.

In the court hall, “Do you confess to the crime?” asked the bench clerk with an air of authority. Which moron would disobey the police who have been “compassionate” to reduce the quantum of penalty ten times? “Yes!” confessed the entire lot one after the other.

“Pay Rs. 100 as fine, failing to do so would lead to a day’s remand,” spoke the clerk mechanically, as if she has been repeating it for ages.

Why this leniency when you are caught red handed? Again, only Mr. Uday Kumar (RPF), who registered the case would know the enigma behind it. (Also see Section 167 of the Indian Penal Code)

Coming to the point. How much did I shell out from my pocket eventually? Two hundred bucks. Why? Because the police demanded it explaining it was the lawyer’s “fee”*. Did anyone bother to make an issue out of it? No sane person after a four-hour ordeal would dare to make a ruckus at this point in time.

Hoi polloi (aam admi) who didn’t have that sum were strip searched or at least wallet searched*. Two hundred rupees was stopping everyone else from being let off. So others pooled in for the ones who couldn’t afford the “fine.”

The receipt for the fine? Who cares when the police is lackadaisical in issuing one, in stark contrast to the haste in which case was registered.

I walked back to the place where I was caught. No policeman manned the track. Scores of passengers flouted the same rule which I did four hours earlier and ended up in court. Were the police present? I went to the station to verify. They were very much present, chit chatting with colleagues. Who cares for safety or law when the quota of cases has been recorded on paper for the day?

Then why did I end up in the court? As another policeman succinctly put it when someone questioned, “I had been crossing the same track for the past eight years unnoticed but why today?”

“It’s your bad luck today.”

Bottom-line: Law in India works on serendipity.

Post script: Why did I pen this cognizant of the fact that even after another decade, status quo would be maintained on ground zero? Because, this is the only way to fight the system. Keep exposing, keep filing PILs, and keep writing. At least you will get a publication to your credit!

*Illegal

Vinodh V Krishna
Vinodh V Krishna

Vinodh V Krishna is a third year law student at Galgotias University.

In case you too would like your articles to be published on Bar & Bench, write to us at info@barandbench.com