With the CBI taking over the probe into the murder of an additional district judge in a hit-and-run case in Dhanbad, all arms of the law enforcement machinery appear primed to unravel the plot to eliminate him. Judge Uttam Anand was out on a morning jog along an empty street when a stolen autorickshaw swerved towards him, knocked him down from behind and sped away. The heavily bleeding judge was later spotted and taken to a hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries. Initial theories were of a road accident till viral CCTV footage of the chilling murder made the authorities sit up and take notice. While the Jharkhand High Court took suo motu cognisance, the Supreme Court initially fobbed off requests to take it up till the case became too big to ignore. Anand last month had dealt with bail applications of powerful gangsters, sexual harassment cases, alleged diversion of scholarship funds and sale of fake lottery tickets. Whoever plotted the attack apparently knew the judge’s daily morning routine. The auto driver and its lone passenger have since been arrested.
The murder at dawn is a chilling blow to judicial independence and an indication of the worsening law-and-order situation in Jharkhand, since such incidents hadn’t happened even during the height of Naxal activity in the region. Intimidation by powerful people using muscle power is a fact of life officers in the lower judiciary have to live with across the country, with little protection. Just the other day, an SC bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud berated the Madhya Pradesh High Court for not standing by a trial court judge who feared for his life after denying bail to the husband of a BSP MLA in a case involving the murder of a Congress leader.
Independence of the subordinate judiciary is the bedrock of the country’s legal system. As the Bench noted, trial court judges work in appalling conditions. Lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection and judges being made targets when they “stand up for what is right” make them vulnerable. With the SC now seized of the matter, one hopes it would address the systemic problems of the subordinate judiciary being pressured from within and without so as to build confidence to do their job without fear or favour.