On July 28, District and Sessions Judge, Dhanbad Uttam Anand went out for a morning walk, never to return home.
He was killed in a road accident after a three-wheeler/auto rickshaw rammed into him while he was walking along the edge of the road.
The CCTV footage that emerged later seemed to suggest that it was a deliberate act done with the intention of injuring or killing the judge.
At the time of his death, Anand was hearing the murder case of Ranjay Singh, a close aide of Jharia MLA Sanjeev Singh. He had also rejected the bail plea of Abhinav Singh and Ravi Thakur, members of a gang headed by Aman Singh, who is under arrest.
Who was Judge Uttam Anand?
Judge Uttam Anand started his journey from St. Xavier's School, Hazaribagh. He graduated from Kirorimal College, Delhi University and completed his Law from Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, Delhi.
He was known in legal circle as a very soft spoken person who showed concern for litigants.
He was a judge who majorly dealt with cases of accident compensation and heinous crimes, and used to take an empathetic view on plight of the victims in many cases.
"He had the judicial courage to face everything"
Speaking to Bar & Bench, Advocate Abdul Kalaam Rashidi, who is a Member of the Jharkhand State Bar Council, said that Anand was a very soft spoken person. The judge was more concerned about the rights of the aggrieved party.
"Uttam had the judicial courage to face everything and his prime object was to deliver justice. He had no enmity with anyone, neither locally or within the profession. Even his family was into the profession, including his father and his close relatives," said Rashidi.
"We lost a noble gem"
Retired Principal District & Sessions Judge from Jharkhand, Mohammed Kasim, who served with Judge Anand at Jamshedpur said that he was a noble person.
"I believe the incident was horrifying and we lost a noble gem. I think there was no controversy around him since he was a very noble person and conducted his court with judicial discipline," Kasim said.
He also underscored the necessity to strengthen security for judicial officers in district and subordinate courts.
"We need to revisit the issue of providing security to judicial officers serving at District/Subordinate courts. I believe adequate security should be provided to these officers."
"I fail to understand that why Parliament has not discussed the issue yet"
Former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court Justice Govind Mathur told Bar & Bench that "this is the peak and killing of a judge (as it appears) is the boiling point that demands severe action."
Justice Mathur was also of the view that adequate protection should be given to judicial officers and even lawyers who are directly facing threats.
"In last few years, the offenders and the individuals or groups of people who treat the rule of law as a hurdle in their illegal activities are consistently putting pressure on the justice delivery system. I fail to understand that why Parliament has not discussed the issue yet."
"No one is as vulnerable as a trial court judge"
Bharat Chugh who is served as judge in Delhi before setting up his independent law practice, termed the incident unfortunate. He also lauded the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court for taking up the issue.
"But what is really needed is urgent discourse on systematic reform and beefing up of security at trial court level, both for judges and lawyers, immediately," he added.
On the issue of the safety of judges, Chugh said that as per his experience, a trial court judge is most vulnerable.
"I can say it from personal experience that there's no one in the system who is as vulnerable as a trial court judge. A trial judge spends most of the time in the trenches. There is no other security. The feeble police cover is also absent before and after court hours. This places judges in an extremely precarious situation. Magistrates face added risks since they have to sometimes conduct proceedings at their houses (as duty magistrates) and spend time in the trenches - while recording dying declarations at hospitals and conducting identification line-ups (Test Identification Parades)," he said.
"Forget security, we don't have the basic resources"
Bar & Bench spoke to several sitting judicial magistrates/officers about Anand's death and the issue of safety of judges.
They responded on condition of anonymity.
A judicial magistrate from Bihar said that he is shocked after the incident and it is disheartening that a person who takes an oath to deliver justice within the four walls of the court room is not safe outside those four walls.
"Adequate security should be provided judicial officers, particularly those who are handling matters relating to remand/custody," he said.
While expressing grave concern over the alleged murder of Anand, a judicial magistrate from Uttar Pradesh opined that the situation is alarming.
"The condition is very disheartening, forget security, we don't even have the basic resources. There is discrimination on the basis of providing security to juniors and seniors, but we have to accept the fact that each and every judge is handling some high-profile or maybe criminal/bail/remand matter," she said.
"Death of Judge Anand an eye-opener for everyone, judicial officers not safe"
A judicial magistrate serving in New Delhi also echoed similar sentiments, stating that she has been witnessing many attacks on judicial officers, but no action has been taken till date.
The death of Judge Uttam Anand is an eye-opener for everyone around, because it also raises questions about security to judicial officers at the district/subordinate courts, she added.
"I face great difficulties when I drive back from court, because in Delhi you will have to hear many remand cases where the accused is a high-profile criminal or in some case a corporate fraud, but our safety is nowhere in the frame. There is only one (thanedar) officer in the court premises, apart from that, we are on our own," she pointed out.
As reported earlier, judicial inquiries into Judge Anand's death have been initiated, and the probe is underway. Here is the chain of events pertaining to the case.
July 28: The road accident
On the morning of July 28, Judge Anand was found critically injured near Randhir Verma Chowk, Dhandbad.
At around 10:00 AM, the Principal Judge rushed to the hospital only to learn that Judge Anand has passed away.
July 29: Jharkhand High Court takes suo motu cognizance of his death
A day after the incident, a letter was sent by the Ram Sharma, Principal District and Sessions Judge, Dhanbad to the Registrar General of the Jharkhand High Court.
"I immediately rushed to PMCH Hospital and found him dead. The attending doctors informed me that he was brought to the hospital by one Pawan Kumar Pande. Thereafter, necessary treatment was given to Sri Uttam Anand and he was also put on ventilator, but succumbed to his injuries. Thereafter, necessary instructions were issued to the police with regard to arrest of the culprits," Sharma's letter said.
On the basis of the letter, the High Court took suo motu cognizance of the incident.
Interestingly, when this matter was being heard, members of the Jharkhand Bar informed the Court that "one motorbike rider who was coming from the opposite side of the auto-rickshaw took a u-turn and had followed the auto-rickshaw. When the concerned judicial officer has fallen, he watched the judicial officer falling down and thereafter fled."
During the course of hearing of the suo motu case, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Senior Advocate Vikas Singh also joined the proceedings. He opined that the murder of Judge Uttam Anand is nothing but an attack on the judicial system of the country and ultimately a brazen attack of our democratic system. He further pressed for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Dhanbad informed the Court that two persons have been apprehended.
"One of them an auto-rickshaw driver and another a person who was sitting in the vehicle have been arrested interrogation is being done by the Special Investigating Team."
July 29: Supreme Court declines to examine the incident
The matter was mentioned by Vikas Singh before Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana.
The CJI, however, said that since the Jharkhand High Court has already taken up the issue, interference by Supreme Court at this stage will only cause hindrance.
July 29: Resolutions passed by various Bar Councils, associations
The State Bar Councils of Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu condemned the death of Judge Anand. The Jharkhand Bar Council also demanded that an expeditious investigation be conducted into the same.
On a similar note, a resolution was passed by the Delhi Judicial Service Association condemning the death of Judge Anand. The Association also resolved to extend every possible help to the family of the deceased officer, ensure that rule of law is upheld, and timely justice is delivered.
"Such an act is potentially fearsome and viciously deterrent to the fair adjudication by any judge. During discussion, this Association unanimously agreed that judges are often an easy target of vindictive and disgruntled litigants," read the resolution .
July 30: Supreme Court registers suo motu case on safety of judges
One day after declining to interfere in the matter, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance and registered a case regarding the 'safety of judges' after the death of Judge Anand.
The case was listed before a Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant, which directed the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police of Jharkhand to submit a status report on the investigation into the death of Judge Anand within a week. The matter will be heard next on August 8.
CJI Ramana, while taking suo motu cognizance, noted,
"Gruesome incident has been widely reported in newspapers, and video clippings of the incident are also being circulated on social media platforms, suggesting that it was not a case of simpliciter road accident."
July 30: Jharkhand High Court calls for investigation report
While hearing the suo motu case, the High Court directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the death to submit its report by August 3.
"We want a speedy, fair and professional investigation in the matter," the Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan said.
The police was also directed to submit a report regarding the crime rate in the State since February 2020.