‘Paisa bolta hai, sab chalta hai’: Pune Porsche crash reveals so many things that are wrong with us, the system and laws

(Image via NDTV)

A drunk teenager rams his overspeeding luxury car into vehicles killing two people and the honourable court orders him to write an essay on accidents as ‘punishment’. Does this sound absurd, insensitive and unreal travesty of justice? Well, this is what happened in Maharashtra’s Pune after a 17-year-old teen rammed his Porsche car into a vehicle in an inebriated state and killed two people named Aneesh Awadhia and Ashwini Koshta on the 19th of May. While two innocent people lost their lives, the accused teenager who is the son of builder, Vishal Agarwal of Brahma Realty and Infrastructure, got bail within 15 hours of his arrest.

In the words of the teen’s lawyer Prashant Patil, the court was “kind enough” to grant bail to the accused with certain bail conditions. Now the bail conditions imposed by the court reflect nothing but apathy towards the deceased victims.

The accused who stepped out of a posh bar late in the night before the incident was asked by the Juvenile Justice Board to work with a traffic police official for 2 weeks and attend psychiatric counselling sessions. The teen has also been asked to write a 300-word essay on road accidents and create traffic awareness boards. His father Vishal Agarwal who owns the bar where a 17 years and 8 months old accused was served alcohol has been arrested today after a case was registered at Yerwada Police Station.

Reports say that the minor had tried to flee the spot after the incident, however, the locals caught hold of him and thrashed him before turning him over to the police.

Such is the deplorable state of our society and the judiciary that a rich underage boy without a driving license driving a luxury Porsche Taycan car without any registration since March at its top speed, fails to control the vehicle while drunk and ends up killing two people, booked under IPC section 304A (causing death by negligence) among other sections get bail in a blink of an eye. The unusual bail conditions and the celerity in granting bail have made the public perceive the development as “Bhai paisa ho toh kya nahi ho sakta [When you have money, anything can happen] alongside misuse of power and influence.

Meanwhile, the teen’s lawyer Prashant Patil has already said that the investigation is yet to be concluded on whether his client was indeed driving the car when it hit the deceased victims. Amid criticism over handling the case involving a prominent businessman, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told Pune Police Commissioner Amitesh Kumar to ensure strict action against the accused.

Although 304A is a bailable offence, getting bail in just a few hours with such appalling bail conditions raises the concern that the judiciary desperately needs reforms.

Notably, the Modi government brought the new Bhartiya Nyay Sanhita, section 106 of which akin to IPC 304A. However, 106(2) whoever causes death by rash and negligent driving not amounting to culpable homicide and flees without reporting to the police shall be punished with 10 years jail term and a fine. Although the three criminal laws passed by the parliament will come into effect from 1st July, BNS Section 106(2) has been put on hold after the transporters associations protested.

It is pertinent to mention that this is not the first case that exposed the prevalent flaw in our system, the way our law enforcement and the judiciary function.

Jessica Lal murder case that shook the nation

On April 30, 1999, a man named Siddharth Vashishta alias Manu Sharma, shot and killed model Jessica Lal for refusing a drink at a party. At a private party, she was tending an unlicensed bar. When she refused to give Sharma a drink after midnight, Sharma shot her dead. His father, Venod Sharma, is a politician from Haryana with an influential political background.

Manu Sharma (L), Jessica Lal (R) (Source: IndiaToday)

The acquittal of Sharma by a city court in February 2006 sparked nationwide protests. After hearing the matter, the Delhi High Court overturned the ruling. The judgement referred to the fact that the lower court disregarded or misinterpreted material evidence. Sharma was convicted to life imprisonment in December 2006. In 2010, the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court despite an appeal against the High Court judgement. On 2nd June 2020, Sharma was granted early release by the then-Delhi L-G Anil Baijal on grounds of “good behaviour” after the then-Delhi home minister and now-jailed AAP leader Satyendra Jain recommended the same.

Sanjeev Nanda mowed down six people with his BMW car, faced just two years jail terms and community service as ‘punishment’

In 1999, Sanjeev Nanda, a businessman and grandson of former Naval Chief SM Nanda hit seven people with his BMW car in an intoxicated state resulting in the death of six people including three police officers at Lodhi Road in Delhi. On 11th January 1999, Sanjeev and his friends were arrested, however, as several witnesses in the case turned hostile, Nanda got bail in October of that year.

Sunil Kulkarni, a witness in the case had said that he gave a different version of the incident under police pressure. In many cases, the powerful people manage to influence, threaten and even bribe witnesses to change their statements with or without the involvement of police officials.

In 2008, Nanda was sentenced to 5 years in jail by the trial court under section 304 (II) IPC. He then challenged the conviction in the Delhi High Court. The High Court then converted his conviction from 304(II) to a lenient 304A reducing the sentence to two years. The court, however, noted that Nanda gave Rs 65 lakh to the families of victims only to get bail and not out of remorse over his crime.

Sanjeev Nanda, his BMW car after the incident (Source: TheHindu, MumbaiMirror)

In 2012, the Delhi Police challenged the modification to Nanda’s conviction and sought an increase in jail sentence, however, the Supreme Court refused to enhance the quantum of punishment of two years jail term already served by Nanda and directed him to do community service for two years in addition to paying Rs 50 lakh compensation to Central government for road accident victims. Six people were killed for no fault of theirs and their killer gets relaxation in jail term, community service as ‘punishment’ and fines/compensation which being a rich person Nanda easily managed to pay. The verdict in the case reminds one of the adage, “If the punishment for a crime is a fine, it means that it’s only a crime when the poor do it.”

Punjab and Haryana HC reduced the jail term of the rash driver even as one died and two were injured

Back in 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, reduced the sentence from two years to eight months of a car driver Dil Bahadur convicted by a magistrate court in 2015 under IPC section 304A in a 2012 case from 2 years in jail to 8 months considering that he was the sole breadwinner of the family and poor. The incident transpired on 12th January 2012 when an ambulance was bringing a patient Madanlal towards Prabh Ashram in Mohali while another person was also sitting in the ambulance.

At midnight Dil Bahadur who was driving the Mahindra Scorpio SUV rammed the vehicle into the ambulance which consequently overturned. The ambulance driver, patient Madanlal and another person suffered severe injuries. Later, Madanlal succumbed to his injuries. Last year, the Supreme Court overturned the High Court verdict saying that it was a display of “undue sympathy”.

There have been many such cases where either the accused managed to get bail easily, or got their sentences reduced even in murder cases. In one such case the Delhi High Court last year commuted the death sentence of a man who kidnapped and killed a 12-year-old boy in 2009 in Delhi saying the crime was not “rarest of the rare”.

The tragic flaw of the Indian judiciary and the way forward

Interestingly, while the bail conditions in the Pune Porsche case have befuddled the people, there have been many other cases where the murder accused was directed by the courts to plant 10 saplings of either some fruit-bearing tree or neem etc, in some cases even the height of the saplings to be planted was specified. Such bizarre bail conditions demonstrate a lack of sympathy for the victims and also raise a question about the judiciary’s seriousness in ensuring justice.

In a fast-moving world where material gains and luxuries are more valuable than human life incidents of hit-and-run cases in a country like India are sadly, too common. The occurrence of hit-and-run cases is common to such an extent that in 2022, over 30000 people died in such cases while double the number were injured. While the number of cases has been high, the conviction rate in hit-and-run cases has been below 50% in 2022.

The Indian legal system must be reformed to provide justice for all people. Misplaced sympathies and lack of it when needed, delays and inefficiencies in the current system make it more difficult to provide justice to the common people. Transparency and accountability should be improved to ensure timely and deserved justice for the victims. Reforms are required to guarantee prompt case resolution. Judicial reforms and the justice delivery system are desperately needed.  In a broader context, a slow-moving legal system marked by lengthy wait times and gradual advancement allows a window for rich and powerful criminals to exploit the loopholes in the law and escape punishment for their crimes.

Fair and prompt trials, appropriate media coverage, and conscientious public outrage can all help ensure justice for the victims—particularly in hit-and-run cases where the likelihood of conviction is remarkably low and obtaining bail is quite effortless.