Whenever the state government wants to see justice is done, it calls in its most-trusted special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam. The 59-year-old legal luminary, who has succeeded in arguing and achieving 630 life imprisonments and 28 death penalties, has been appointed to represent the state in the gang rape case of a photojournalist. Mustafa Plumber spoke to Nikam on his appointment and how it soothes the anger that erupted after the incident.
Is Mumbai safe for women any more?
This type of incident can happen anywhere and in any city.
Such incidents are reported even in foreign countries. While I will say Mumbai is safe for women as compared to other cities in India, the state has to act and work on the root cause of such crimes. At the same time only the guilty should be punished and not the innocent.
The state government has immense confidence in your abilities as a prosecutor, to get justice for victims/society. How do you feel?
The common man has faith in me and this is my capital and this is my energy. I must assure you, I will see to it that whosoever has committed a crime in the eyes of law will be punished accordingly. This faith of the common man must be the medicine to help us ensure justice for everyone.
Do you get nervous when you step into court to represent the state government in such sensitive cases that have a larger impact on society?
I take it as a challenge. I feel like I am a warrior and each case is a war for me which has to be won.
Your thoughts on the competency of the Mumbai police in collecting evidence which will help you put up a watertight case in court?
It is the role of the investigating officer to collect the evidence. As regards the Mumbai police, they are good in some cases and they have to learn to build up the evidence in some cases. But, overall, the Mumbai police is one of the best in the country.
One of the accused in the case claims to be a juvenile and this has become a trend recently. A state government-appointed committee has recommended that the juvenile age be reduced from 18 years to 16 years. Do you think this should be done?
Previously, the juvenile age was 16 years. However, the international community thought that it should be increased to 18 years and this was adopted in India. This was done with a view to reform children and deter them from becoming hardened criminals.
Nowadays though, due to globalisation and the early knowledge of things through mediums like the internet, the physical age criteria is not sufficient. The past criminal record of the accused, his family background and the nature of the crime committed should also be taken into account when deciding whether the person should be given the benefit of juvenile status or not.
Do you think that the Mumbai gang-rape case is an open-and-shut case?
No case is an open-and-shut case. Evidence has to be led in the court and media reports cannot form the basis of a criminal trial. Evidence in the form of witnesses have to be produced before the court, to bring home the guilt of the accused. If not done properly, the courts could give the benefit of doubt to the accused who could even be acquitted.
While arguing for harsher punishment in the rape case involving former cop Sunil More, you had said that a message should be sent out that policemen are not above the law. What will your stand be in the photojournalist rape case?
It is very premature for me to comment on the issue.