Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Show me the money!

Walking outside CST today, I passed the newspaper wallah and stopped a bit to check out the headlines. I do subscribe to a newspaper, the Hindustan Times (surprising choice for many), but I still like to check out the front page headlines to see if there's something that was missed out. My glance is a very cursory glance, I turn my head to the side and check the headlines, and turn my head to the front again, and as I walk on I contemplate what I have read. Not a very big fan of the "take time off to smell the roses" school of thought, I am. Blame it on the city.

Anyway, my visuals noted the Times of India:

"Prosecutor co-operated with the Defence".

Instead of waiting to come across the next newspaperwallah, I actually turned back and squinted to see the fine text. It was a Delhi Case. My interest was to find out whether this was an allegation against a Prosecutor in a Court in which I work, in which case I would rub my hands in glee and wait for the ass to resign or get sacked, like the same glee I felt when the Alistar Pereira (Google the name if you cant figure out, or stop to check headlines more often)Judge got sacked.

Corruption in my profession is like the odours of the Mahim Creek which hit you just before/after Bandra Station. When you first encounter it, you are appalled, choked, disgusted, and you try and avoid it by covering your mouth and nose with your dupatta or handkerchief. As the days go by, you learn to breathe through it, though you make a face as soon as the train pulls out of Mahim in anticipation of the stench. And then finally, you accept it, and even find its utility to let you know the impending arrival of the Bandra Station. The stench is not going to go anywhere. Learn to live with it.

So there was always the corruption that wasn't really corruption. One may argue that paying someone off, regardless of the status of that person and the intention behind paying them off is always corruption, so I should shut up and stop making artificial distinctions. To each his own. Paying someone off isn't really corruption if you feel sorry for the person who you're paying off. It's more of the Baksheesh, or a reward for doing your job, that you pay to the person for taking time off his busy schedule and doing your job in the least time possible. It's also not corruption if you're getting something done that's perfectly legal. So paying a peon for getting paperwork done is fine. Letting the xeroxwalla keep the change is cool. Then there's the celebratory kinds, which is part of Court Culture, so to speak. You get a favourable Order of the Court, and the Court staff will slip out one by one for their 'mithai' money. Most of the times you can cleverly deflect this to your Client, who is elated and wouldn't mind shelling out a bit for the cause.

But then there's the real corruption that plagues the judiciary and its officers, and, let's face it, this train isn't moving for a long time.

My first brush with corruption was in the unglamorous setting of the Consumer Forum. People fighting over travel vouchers with untold of conditions and 500gm bread loaves which weighed only 300gms. At best, Medical Negligence. Me, I was defending a poor lady saddled with a Siemens Refrigerator which didn't cool enough and faced by their sales representatives who couldn't care less. As I twiddled my thumbs one day, a familiar face walked upto me, who I recognized to be an technical expert on the Panel of the Commission.

"Madam, I was looking for you only."

"What for?"

"The President wants a Book."

"Oh, for the Fridge technicalities?"

"No Madam. Some 'Law of Torts'."

The 'law of torts' was the basis of consumer protection law. Pretty early in the day to be requiring it.

"Let me see if we have it in the Office. Am sure we do. I'll bring it with me the next time I'm in this Court."

"Nooo Madam...", he looked exasperated. "You don't need to bring it."


"He wants you to give it to him."

"Duh-huh. And How do I do that without bringing it here?"

"Madam, you just have to pay for it downstairs."

"Oh, that way."

That way?

Wait a minute...

The realization sunk in installments:

"He wants me to BUY him a book?"


"He wants ME to buy HIM a book?"

"Yes, madam."

"He wants me to buy him a BOOK?"

The expert looked at me, doubtfully.

Must stop hyperventilating. Must distract myself by getting to the bottom of this.

"Alright. So he asked you to ask me to buy him a book."


"Why me?" Did he mean to say that I actually looked like someone who would give into unreasonable demands that easily? "I've just appeared here some three times!"

"Because... Madam... you looked like the dependable sort of person for something like this. he doesn't make these requests to just anyone. You are the chosen one!"

Right. That's exactly what he meant, then.

"These books are expensive! I've just joined! I live on the border of the poverty line!". I decided to avoid the line of argument that the very suggestion was despicable and disgusting and I wished for nothing else but to spit on the face of both the expert and the President. I had a morbid desire to see exactly where this would lead.

"Madam, don't worry. The bookseller downstairs gives the President a discount. And he will adjust the amount of the book in the costs which he will award you."

Oh. There we go. Just as I began to doubt this to be a genuine request, out comes the carrot. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.

"Why don't you come with me to the bookseller and see for yourself?"

At the bookshop, a small stall below the Tardeo AC Market selling law books, I was shown the book (it had already been marked for the President) and the revised price. All this for a 4 grand hardcover revised edition of Ratanlal and Dhirajlal on Torts?

"You just have to pay the money here Madam. He will send the book up to the President."

This smelled suspiciously like a routed transaction. However, the expert evidently hadn't seen through this yet.

"How about I get the book from my own vendor? He gives it at a better rate. I'll bring it next time."

"Oh no, Madam. The President has called you tomorrow. He will take up your application then."

"Tomorrow? But tomorrow is a Second Saturday, the Forum doesn't sit on Saturdays."

The expert looked at me doubtfully again.

I should really learn to stop being surprised with this place.

As I walked off, I heard the expert say, "and Madam, don't tell your Seniors about this."

"Of course not."

Unknown to the expert, my Senior was not a Consumer Protection Lawyer, as is what he probably assumed, but one of the Toughest Criminal Lawyers in Mumbai, known for many things but most of all, his anti-corruption stance is admired greatly amongst colleagues and foes alike. He's gotten the Anti Corruption Department unleashed on many Judicial Officers, helped set up entrapments, the works. So it was a smart move on his part to put in the parting shot. of course, being a true lawyer, I was untrue to my word and blabbed the whole story out to my Boss. Boss took off his glasses, ran his fingers through his bushy white hair and said:

"Look, he is upto no good, but we should also take into consideration the fact that he asked you for a book, that's all. We all know that he could have asked for anything else. So I'll tell you what to do..."

The next day, I walked into his room holding the Hardcover 25th Edition of Ratanlal Dhirajlal's "The Law of Torts".

"Oh, you got the book? Very Good."

"Yes, Your Honour," I said, widening my brown eyes as I spoke. "We had a copy in the Office, but we don't use it. Ours is a Criminal Practice, you see."

"Is it?" He looked confused.

"Yes, Your Honour. Don't mind the Office Stamp on the book. That was just routinely done. Silly staffers we have."

He opened the book to the front page and recoiled in horror, as it were.

"You work for HIM?"

"Yes, Sir." I smiled.

Quickly composing himself, he closed the book.

"I don't need the book, I think."

"Why Sir? The Expert told me..."

"No no," he said, cutting me off. "This is YOUR office copy..."

"Your Honour, really, we have no need for it. You can keep it for as long as you want..."

"No no, it'll just get lost in all these other books here..."

"Doesn't matter, Your Honour, you can just not return it, if you like..."

"No no, I insist.."

"Your Honour, My Boss insists..."

A distinct wince at my Boss's reference. "No. If I need it, I shall tell you."

I did my best exasperated expression. "Alright, your Honour."

My next interaction was not so pleasant. It was a case of Marital Cruelty and as soon as we filed the Complaint, the in-laws of my Client rushed to file an anticipatory bail application. As Complainant, I asserted my right to intervene and oppose the Application along with the Public Prosecutor, who is bound to oppose the grant of Bail. I follow the PP to his Office, and the PP sends me off with his Peon to get copies of all the documents done, and then I brief the PP, not once, but twice.

Come D-Day, after the defence lawyer makes his boisterous submissions, the Public Prosecutor stands up, and says:

"The case is of Marital Cruelty, allegations of harassment and mental torture, et cetera."

And sits down.

That was IT? I felt like one of those obsessive moms who teach their kids verses from the Gita for a fancy dress competition and then gape in horror at their child prancing about stage without a care in the world, completely oblivious to all they have been force-fed. The Judge saw me hissing hurried prompts to the PP, and taking full advantage of his attention I launched into arguments and tried to prove my case. But to no avail - Anticipatory Bail was granted.

"Ruma," said SP, who is the senior most associate in the office and of very high coolness quotient, "why are you looking so upset?"

"Dude. I just blew the anticipatory bail hearing."

"Ruma, its part of the game, you win some, you lose some. Which court was this in, anyway?"

"Patil. No. 34."

"Patil? So the PP was Rao?"


SP chuckles. "Didn't you go to brief him?"

"Of course I did. Twice. I gave him all the papers also. He just stood up and sat down, almost. Bloody hell!"

"So you went to brief him? In his office?"

"Of course."

"And then he sent you to get your copies, with the Peon?"

" did you know?"

SP smiled. "And then what happened?"

"I got the copies, paid for the xerox, and came back to office."

"That's it?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"That cannot be it."

"Why not?"

SP clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth. "Think Ruma, think."

"What think? I spoke to the PP, briefed him, then he sent me to look for his peon to go get the copies made..."


Then I remembered. Someone called out to me.

"Aren't you AR's junior? Isn't he Special PP in the Arms Haul case?"

I whirled around. "Yes, I am."

"So will you accept service on his behalf? Something urgent has come in."


Flashback over. SP is clutching his sides and laughing. "No wonder!"

"No wonder what?"

"Obviously, once he heard that you were Boss's Junior there was no fucking way he would ever approach you. That's his game, he sends you with the Peon, and the Peon makes the offer and handles the transaction. Whether you want Bail granted or you want Bail denied, Rao gets his cut."

My head reeled from the impact of both the revelation and the timing. "How much IS his cut?"

"5. 4 for the PP, 1 for the Peon."

Holy Crap! I'm not saying that I was totally in denial of the possibility that PPs could throw cases. But just for a gain of 4,000 bucks?

I began to stutter. "SP, dude, are you telling me that it was rigged?"

"Who was the Opposing Lawyer?"


"Kala Shaikh?"

"Uh, yeah, I mean, he was kinda dark complexioned."

"Poor baby," said SP, ruffling my hair. "Even the IIMs are considering giving him a honorary degree in Management. You never even stood a chance."

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