The Trial

The Gavel

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I, GAVEL, welcome you to Tollyganj Criminal Court No.2  at Kolkata. Take your seat. My place is on the right side of the spacious table of Honorable Judge Mr. Lahiri. He keeps me handy, but use me sparingly. He does fast clearance of cases before him, and his judgements are non-controversial. Please study the 18th November proceedings of  “The case of Budhdev vs Precision Tools Company, and give your verdict.
The courtroom was packed with spectators.  Budhdev’s wife Chandra, his brother Medappa, and his co-workers were sitting in a group. 11.00 am ..  Bailiff announced “All rise,(Hoshiyaar)”. Everybody in the court stood up. Judge Lahiri entered the court and occupied his seat. Then all others sat down. The Bailiff announced, “Case No.83/20.. Budhdev Vs Precision Tools Company”.Budhdev’s Lawyer, Mr. Dasgupta walked up to the railing, bowed before Judge Lahiri. ‘Your Honor’  he said and started presentation of his say  .. That, his client was working as Turner in the company. On 24th March after work, he didn’t reach home. His body was found in the bushes beside a level crossing which was about 200 meters from his home. His younger brother Medappa filed a suit against the Company, claiming compensation against death while on duty, and to employ him in his brother’s place in the company.Then, the Company’s lawyer, Manohar, bowed and opened his defense. In a crisp tone he started ..

“Your Honor, on 24th March, after working hours, Budhdev boarded company bus and got down at the scheduled stop near his house. At that time he was quite normal. Once an employee goes out of the gate after work, he’s off duty. Thereafter whatever he does or faces is of no concern to the company. Therefore, l  have to state that the claim of death compensation made by Mr.Medappa as also his demand for giving employment,  both are irrelevant and illegal and hence not acceptable. My client is ready to pay only those dues which are due and payable as per the Payment of Wages & Gratuity Acts, when an employee ceases to be in employment.”

“Your Honor” Dasgupta argued , “company provides to & fro bus transport for their employees for coming to work from residence. On 24th March after work, Budhdev boarded the company bus to go home, but he didn’t reach home. His  dead body was found at the spot which is on company bus route. As per clause 18(b) of the Factory’s Act 19…. the term “Notional Extension of the Premises” is applicable in this case. Budhdev continued to be on duty till reaching his home. Therefore, his death is a “death occurred while on duty”. Hence, my client’s claim for compensation against death while on duty, is legal and justified”.

Manohar countered “Your Honor, I would like to thank my learned friend for correctly pointing out the legal provision. But, it’s my client’s contention that death occurred after Budhdev reached home and that his dead body was then shifted to the said location, in order to establish the claim”.

Dasgupta promptly got up and said, “Your Honor, allow me to produce witnesses and proofs in support of our claim”.

“Permission granted” said Judge Lahiri.

“My first witness is Medappa, younger brother of the deceased”.

In the witness box Medappa introduced himself, and took the oath, “I’ll tell the whole truth and the only truth”.
He then told the Court how he found the dead body and how shocking it was for all of them. He further added that, after the last rites, he approached the company and requested for payment of dues including death compensation and his employment. The company refused his request not only at company level but also during the meetings held with the Factory Inspector & Welfare Commissioner.  Hence Medappa was compelled to approach the Hon.Court.

“Your witness please” Dasgupta addressed Manohar.
Looking with piercing eyes at Medappa, Manohar stated “No questions right now. But, I wish to call him later, if needed”.
“Point to be noted” directed Judge Lahiri to the Stenographer.

The next witness,  Head Constable of Police department (HC), gave details as to where and when the body was found and the autopsy conducted to arrive at the possible cause and time of death. Then Dasgupta invited Manohar for cross examination.

Manohar – Did you know that Budhdev alighted at 5.35 pm at his residence ?
HC – I cannot say for sure.
Manohar – Why not ?
HC – I made enquiries. There were 34 people in the bus. Only 5 stated that they saw Budhdev getting down at the scheduled stop. 10 said they didn’t see him getting down. Remaining said they didn’t remember.
Manohar – How did you find the body?
HC – Medappa phoned me, I mean the police station. I was on duty at that time. I called one hawildar and we went to the spot in the Police Van.
Manohar – Who was there at the spot?
HC – Medappa and his friend.
Manohar – Is that friend present here?
HC – Why? Oh sorry. Yes, yes he’s Debuda,  there, that man in saffron robe, now talking to Medappa.
“Oh, I see. Just a moment” said Manohar and then scribbled a note and gave it to his assistant. The assistant read the note, glanced at the man in saffron robe, and left.

“That’s all” said Manohar.
“You may step down” Judge Lahiri told the H.Constable.
“Yes sir” said the H.Constable, made a salute and stepped down.

Next, the autopsy surgeon testified. According to him the approximate time of death was between 6.00 and 7.00 pm and the death was due to suspected concussion.

During his cross examination, Manohar asked,
“Since cause of death is mentioned as suspected concussion, did you find marks of blow or injury on the head?”
“A small wound on the back of the head” the autopsy surgeon replied curtly.
-Was that the only cause of concussion leading to death.
-Could be.
-Doctor, do you mean to say that there can be other reason for death, which is beyond your knowledge and experience?”

“Objection, My Lord. The question is leading to assumption which is uncalled for, improper and irrelevant” boomed Dasgupta.

“Objection overruled. Please proceed Mr.Manohar” countered Judge Lahiri, (banging ME once but firmly,  on the table)

Then, Manohar turned towards the surgeon, and started a stream of probing questions which revealed that Budhdev might have had some food after he alighted near the house. That, the undigested food in the stomach of dead body had traces of unknown poison. That the cause of death could be poison.

Manohar then requested the Court to call back Medappa in the witness box.

Medappa looked iffy.  “Just a few details” Manohar said.
Are you employed ?
Are you married ?
How do you pass your time ?
I help Chandra bhabhi in house work. I go out for job searching.
–    Where were you on 24th March ?

– I was at home waiting for Budhdev. But, he did not reach home at the scheduled time. After half an hour Chandrbhabi asked me to go out and trace Budhdev. So I searched around, and found Budhdev lying in a bush near level crossing. (overwhelming tone).. I shouted and wriggled him but to no avail. I called Police for help. We took him to the doctor. The Doctor declared him dead.
Then, I went home and broke the sad news to Chandrbhabi. She nearly fainted. I tried to pacify her. Then, we went to police station. The body was sent for autopsy. The surgeon told me that death was due to concussion.

Manohar – What do you think must have happened?
– I think that while getting down Budhdev must have slipped from the footboard, hit the guard stones of sidewalk and died. Then the driver must have arranged to move away dead body to the bushes.
– Were you alone when you found the body ?
– Me and my friend Debuda went on searching and found the body. Debuda has been accompanying me everywhere.
– Is he here now ?
– Yes, there, now talking to Chandrbhabi.

“That’s all, Your Honor” said Manohar.
“You may step down” Judge Lahiri told Medappa and asked Dasgupta if he had any more witnesses.
Dasgupta said, “ No, Your Honor”

(At that moment, Manohar’s assistant hurriedly came to him and gave some papers. Manohar studied them and patted the assistant)

Upon those papers both the lawyers discussed. Then they approached the judge. Manohar requested that before concluding his defense he wanted to call Budhdev’s wife and Medappa’s friend for questioning. Dasgupta said OK, but that he may intervene. Judge Lahiri said, “Request granted”.

When Debuda sworn in, Manohar asked

– What do you do for a living?
– I do religious work. People in distress approach me. I advise them to perform certain rituals. Sometimes I perform the rites.They pay me.
– Like black magic or Sorcerer ?
– Sometimes.
– Have you done it for Budhdev ?
– No, he hated it. Did for Chandra bhabhi for child bearing, Medappa for getting a job.
– How much did they pay you ?
– Oh, they pay me on and off.
– Was Budhdev aware of it ?
– No, no.

Afterwards Chandrbhabi was sworn in. Manohar offered condolences for the sad demise. “Just a few questions” he said.
– How do you manage house expenses now ?
– We have a farmland from where we get food grains, vegetables periodically. Budhdev’s savings are used for other needs.
– Are you taking some medical treatment?
– No, why should I ?
Dasgupta raised objection saying that it had nothing to do with the case. Lahiri sustained.
Manohar then produced a document before the court.
He said, “This is a hospital report declaring Chandra 3 months pregnant and undergoing gynecologist’s treatment. I wonder how can a woman be carrying when her husband died 9 months before”
This caused hullabaloo.

Lahiri banged ME twice saying “Order, order”. Chandra bhabhi broke into tears. She was escorted out to a secluded corner.

Manohar stopped further questioning and called Medappa in witness box, assuring Dasgupta and the court that he would establish the relevance shortly. Lahiri granted permission. Manohar pounced on Medappa with a string of questions ..

– Did you hate Budhdev  _ No
– Did you try to kill Budhdev through Debuda’s black magic _ No
– Did you force Budhdev on 24th March to accompany you at the level crossing _ No
– Were you deceiving your dear brother in money matters _ No. Never

“Budhdev caught you and his wife in an uncompromising situation and hence you both decided to eliminate him. You took help of Debuda right from luring Budhdev to the level crossing, to forcing him to drink sharbat containing concentrated dose of Chloral Hydrate and powdered seeds of Watermelon, to managing the Head constable and autopsy surgeon for FIR and death certificate”.

Did you or did you not ?” Manohar shouted, waving his index finger at Medappa. And, suddenly Medappa broke down.

Sobbing and moaning Medappa lamented on .. “Yes. This was Debuda’s plan. We owe 50k to Debuda.  I thought I would win the case, get a job in Precision, clear the outstanding and start a new life with Chandra. Budhdev was a tricky man over money matters. We were dependent on him. He was a miser. He made our lives difficult. Yes, I love Chandra. She is innocent. Spare her and punish me. I’m guilty.

That was a shocking revelation. It stunned one and all.

Judge Lahiri dismissed the case in favor of Precision Tools Company.  He ordered arrest of Medappa and Debuda. Then banged ME twice, muttering to himself, “Crime Never Pays” ! 
Chandra was allowed to go home. As a gesture of goodwill, Company paid her an Ex-gratia and offered a job in their Packing department.
Author’s note :
1.This is a work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to actual court case/s or persons, dead or alive, is nothing but a pure coincidence.
2.The writer had occasional involvement in the court proceedings & legal matters.
3. Writer is a fan of ‘Perry Mason BBC movies’ on court trials.
4.Chloral hydrate is a bitter white crystalline drug used as a hypnotic and sedative or in knockout drops. It’s a belief that a watermelon seed contains faint traces of cyanide.
5.ME means Gavel
6.Sharbat is a local cold drink.


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