Swapan Maity,now 40,of East Midnapore was driving fast in June 2002 when,he says,a cyclist appeared in front of him. Steering frantically,Maity rammed a roadside railing. The police booked him for rash driving,confiscated his licence and chargesheeted him.
Maity,who earned his living from driving,got the licence back last month. Over those 10 years,Maity attended at least three hearings a year. Under the law,the offence he was being tried for carries a sentence between six months and two years.
Every time I turned up at the court,I only got the date for a new hearing. For every hearing,I had to spend Rs 500 to Rs 800, says Maity,who injured an eye in the accident. Without a licence,I worked on farms and could not afford treatment and struggled to support my family of six.
The case was settled because of the initiative of plea bargaining,being encouraged by the Supreme Court. On September 27,he submitted an affidavit pleading guilty,the court fined him and the case was settled.
The maximum punishment Swapan Maity would have got was two years if convicted. But he faced trial for 10 years, says Sukesh Jain,SP,East Midnapore. There are thousands of cases like this. We want them disposed of as soon as possible through plea bargaining.
Plea bargaining is allowed when the offence involves punishment less than seven years. In West Bengal,police and lawyers launched the initiative last month in East Midnapore and Bankura,each with over 1,000 such pending cases. Eight cases have been settled in East Midnapore so far while 11 applications have been filed in Bankura.
After Delhi,Bengal is the first state that has implemented it. We have successfully initiated it in two districts and started it in other districts too, says Naparajeet Mukherjee,DGP. To be eligible for plea bargaining,a case has to be non-compoundable and a chargesheet needs to have been filed.
A judgment delivered in a case after plea bargaining is final and no appeals are allowed. No bargaining is allowed in serious cases or in those committed against a woman or a child aged under 14.
The cases settled so far have involved driving offences.
In 2004,the vehicle I was driving collided with a truck. Eight passengers and I were injured. I was booked for rash driving. I had to spend a few days in jail and was later granted bail, says Janmejoy Jana. For eight years,I had to go to the court every three to four months and returned with the date for a new hearing. My licence had been deposited and I earned a living by working as daily wager.
We have organised three awareness camps so far in the district, the East Midnapore SP says. After eight undertrials had their cases settled,we are now getting a good response. The first lot had been booked in connection with accident cases. We have started working on rioting cases and small theft cases too.
Mukesh Kumar,Bankuras SP, says,We are dealing with the accident cases first. But we have started working on other cases,too,as contending parties have started responding to the initiative.