The Indian Analyst

Cage This Tiger

Mansur Ali Khan "Tiger" Pataudi! This Nawab of the erstwhile princely state of Pataudi was a revered cricket captain and household name. He was well known for all the right reasons; his winning attitude, gentlemanly behavior, old age charm, and also because he was the youngest Indian captain to date. Today, he is again in the news for all the  wrong reasons.

Recently, he was accused of hunting the endangered black buck. Immediately after the news broke out, he and six other accomplices went into hiding while his scout Madan Singh is in jail. Singh said that Pataudi had fired at the black buck. He has since been released on bail. Ironically, the police had let Pataudi and his six accomplices go and reluctantly agreed to investigate only when pressurized by wildlife officials and animal rights activists. The police made repeated requests-- no warrants or orders, but requests and summons to given themselves up. Since they did not show up after three such summons, they granted time till June 16 for Pataudi and others to surrender.

In the meanwhile, a police team raided his many homes and got control of a carcass of a black buck in a jeep that belonged to him. The carcass had bullets whose caliber matched Pataudi's registered gun. They also found other "trophies" of endangered animals in his house. Among those found were the skins of a tiger, nilgiri thar, spotted deer and sambhar, all of which fall under the protected category and whose hunting was forbidden in 1972 under the Wildlife Protection Act. These skins have been sent for forensic testing to determine if these animals were killed before the 1972 amnesty. When the police went public with these new findings, this "Tiger," through his lawyer wanted some more time to surrender! More amazing is an anticipatory bail application that he filed in a local court seeking an automatic bail because of an autopsy report. This report said that the buck died from a knife wound and Pataudi's claim is that since the buck did not die from his bullets he is not responsible for its death. He claims that at 65, he has many physical ailments and therefore deserves leniency. He has also challenged the competency of the police to investigate this case since this was booked under the Wildlife Protection Act. A lower court, while rejecting an anticipatory bail, seemed to agree that it was not competent to try the case and asked the case be filed in an environment court.

His son, Mr. Saif Ali Khan, a Bollywood actor, is the chief interlocutor for Pataudi, and is himself accused of killing a black buck along with another Bollywood actor Mr. Salman Khan in 1998. They deny any wrongdoing. However, activists say that while poaching is illegal, hunting remains popular and police and wildlife officials often turn a blind eye -- sometimes under pressure -- to expeditions by the rich, famous or powerful. This, they say, is a major obstacle to efforts to save protected animals. In many cases, even the murder of civilians goes unpunished. Mr. Salman Khan is accused of vehicular manslaughter when he, in an inebriated state, drove over homeless people sleeping on a pavement. He has since been released on bail because of "acting responsibilities" and the eye-witnesses miraculously changed their story when the case went to trial. While these eye-witnesses claim that the police forced them to give testimonies which are not true, many believe that the eye-witnesses have been either bought or intimidated. India has no witness protection program and hence witnesses are usually at risk to unlawful and extra-legal elements. Further, Indian police and investigative agencies have a disastrous conviction rate. Either this is due to incompetence, inadequate training, inadequate infrastructure, inadequate information base, or political interference. Many analysts and experts say that investigative agencies are manipulated, coerced, or even bribed to routinely filing incomplete or legally unsustainable cases so that a chosen few so-called crème de la crème of the society can get away on a technicality. The recent Bofors case acquittal is a case in point.

The problem runs deeper. The Wildlife Trust of India drew parallels between this case and the alarming fall in tiger and elephant populations. They charged the Government of wildlife mismanagement. For example, while the Government of Rajasthan complained bitterly against the actors who killed a black buck and got away scot-free (for all practical purposes), they had earlier hosted a party of Arab sheikhs to hunt the Great Indian Buzzard to near extinction. The apathy of the public save a few activists; political interference for money, power, connections, or vote-banks; a police and forest management force that is under-paid, corrupted, ill-trained, and ill-equipped; a judiciary that is overburdened with number of cases and antiquity of laws; a polity that sees all issues in terms of vote-banks and political vendettas have all contributed heavily to absolute disregard for the law by those who are rich, famous, and powerful.

While India does believe in "rule of the law" and "innocent until proven guilty" paradigms in jurisprudence, the selective application of these paradigms and the law is disconcerting for the common man. It almost feels like when someone is a cricketer, movie actor, or politician, the Indian legal system does not apply to them. At the same time, there are cases of Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi. Even though higher courts have consistently thrown out lower court rulings and police charges as baseless, they continue to be harassed by the police and local administration. The length of the arm of law seems to be either short or long depending on who is on the other side.

India is an emerging global power and is seen as the choicest destination for knowledge industry. More and more industries are reaching into the Indian labor market to enhance, augment, and optimize their production capacities worldwide. With such increased wealth creation and increased international visibility, this selective application of "rule of law" will work counter to our national interests. The "rule of law" and the judicial process are some of the few advantages India has over China.

Let us not squander these advantages to help a few self-serving individuals.

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