Quite often when an accused is convicted for a series of offences committed by him the sentences for each of the cases runs concurrently. This is the underlying principle of judicial courts in the process of ensuring a reformative rather than a deterrent impact. It is only in some of the western judicial systems where one finds sentences running to 100 years or even more. It might look ridiculous since the accused is not going to live that long but the underlying principle seems to be to inflict punishment for each offence separately.
The recent judgment in Rajkot in the case of Nitin Rameshchandra Bhat where the local Session court sentenced him to 30 years in jail for a series of offences (ten) and the sentences to run one after another instead of concurrently is being recognised as a path-breaking judgement in the criminal justice process.
I was the Commissioner of Police at Rajkot during the period when these offences took place and it will be in the fitness of things to recall the sequence of events in these cases and the role of the police in solving these cases.
An original native of Gondal in Rajkot district, Nitin worked in Surat for some time and took to crime. Late in the night or early mornings he would patrol the bus stand at Rajkot looking for gullible victims. He would befriend them and accompany them in the same bus. Half way he would offer tea at an intermediary bus stop lacing the tea with stupefying drugs. While the bus proceeded on its journey most of the passengers would be fast asleep being early hours of the morning or late night. When the victim falls into a stupor with the drug laced tea the accused would then go round depriving the passenger of his belongings and disembark at the next station before the unsuspecting passenger recovers from his stupor. In the event of the passenger not accepting the tea he would offer to put him up at a “friend’s” hotel at the destination for the night and rob him there instead. Since the victims were from different places they would hesitate to file a complaint more especially if the loss was not significant.
However one businessman from Mumbai was deprived of nearly Rs1.25 lakhs travelling from Rajkot to Junagadh. He approached the police with a complaint and it was decided to lay a trap as similar offences were reported in the past from the same place and time. The victim assisted the police and for one whole week the police and the victim in this case waited patiently at the bus stand till 4a.m. in the morning for the accused to turn up for his next victim.
As expected he landed up at the bus stand and was immediately picked up. The drugs used to lace the drinks were recovered from him and these drugs were traced to a medical shop in Surat where the pharmacist identified the accused as having bought the drugs from his shop. Property stolen from other victims was also recovered from him.
The conviction in these cases under section 328 IPC (causing hurt by intoxicating drugs) and 379 IPC (theft) is very significant and gratifying since the conviction rate in the country is abysmally low. It opens new vistas in legal interpretation that in the interest of criminal justice and providing succour to the victims of crime, criminals should face such deterrent punishment. Sometimes sentences which run concurrently in serious offences do not act as a deterrent. The sentencing should be a path breaker in cases especially involving property offenders where most of them are repeaters.
The determination of the victim to assist the police in identifying the accused is a perfect example of police public cooperation. Such judgments establish the supremacy of law.