In a tragic case of how the judicial system often makes a mockery of justice, the Bombay high court last week acquitted a person of the charge of abetment to suicide, four years after he had served out the full term of eight years (reduced from 10).
Justice Mridula Bhatkar while acquitting Anand Umashankar Mishra noted: "This appeal is a tragic and glaring example of how the most used and known comment justice delayed is justice denied is apt and true. Mishra is held not guilty and it's a deep agony that our judicial system has no answer on how his liberty and precious eight years can be restored and compensated to him."
In fact, Umashankar Mishra's is a classic case that points to the rot in our criminal investigation and judicial system. The accused has no money to pay a lawyer, he has no clue on how to challenge any order, he has no money to pay the fine. It took 10 years to convict him and another 10 to acquit him on appeal.
As per the prosecution case, one Ranjana, mother of three committed suicide by consuming poison on July 14, 1991, at Cooper hospital. She had consumed poison on July 12 as well but was saved by her husband who rushed her to hospital.
Ranjana was married to Mahesh Agarwal and had three children. The allegation was that Mishra was harassing her by demanding money and trying to outrage her modesty. The suicide note with these allegations formed the basis of conviction.
On July 14, 1991, the accused Mishra also tried to commit suicide by consuming poison (Baygon) but he survived. The police though charged him under section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) along with the abetment charge. Mishra was found guilty for both the offences on October 28, 2002. He surrendered himself on November 3, 2002 and was sent to serve the sentence at Kolhapur prison.
After completion of five years in prison, Mishra wrote an application to the Bombay high court, seeking to reduce the fine amount of Rs15,000, imposed along with the conviction, so that he could pay and be released. He did not prefer any appeal against the conviction then as he was not in a position to avail the service of any lawyer and moreover he did not want to challenge the judgment.
Then on March 11, 2008, he wrote an application to the high court, seeking the help of a legal aide lawyer. The registry placed the application before the court on April 16, 2009. A lawyer was appoionted for him to argue the appeal.
On October 20, 2010, the accused was released from prison after serving his term. The appeal filed by him could not be heard due to huge pendency of matters and paucity of time.
Justice Bhatkar, while setting aside the conviction, rejected the testimony of the husband of the deceased. It said the trial court had erred in accepting the testimony as gospel truth. Further, there was no explanation for the delay in filing of the FIR, 11 days after the death of Ranjana. The reason given in the suicide note the court held was very "weird". The charge of attempt to commit suicide was not proven.
Justice Bhatkar, while directing the registrar, to send the copy of the judgment to Mishra and to the Kurar police station directed the senior police inspector to send a copy to Mishra if his address is found. "It is the most unfortunate case wherein the appeal is heard and the appellant is found not guilty and acquitted from the offence for which he had already undergone the entire sentence," the court said.