Had the judgment been delivered four years ago, Betai Mahato may not have died behind bars. Uttam Mahato, perhaps, would not have turned insane, waiting for justice.
On Tuesday, the high court gave its verdict in a murder case dating back to 1988 and sentenced four of the guilty to 10 years behind bars.
But there is an ironic twist to the verdict: two of the sentenced have already served 14 years in prison and one died four years ago while one was lucky enough to get bail in 1996, after spending eight years behind bars.
The unlucky fifth, who had been put in a juvenile home at the age of 14, all of 14 years ago, will continue to be behind bars.
Since he was arrested as a teenager and tried by a juvenile court, his case is not being heard by the high court. He will have to wait for the juvenile court in Salt Lake to decide his fate, even though he has long left the juvenile home and is now housed in a regular jail.
According to police records, Betai Mahato, Uttam Mahato, Narayan Saw, Kishore and Prince murdered close friend Rajesh Jaiswal in Maniktala after a brawl on April 29, 1988.
The five were arrested. The case dragged on before the city sessions court, which in 1990 sentenced them to life imprisonment. The five then appealed against the judgment in Calcutta High Court, pleading innocence.
Their appeal was that Jaiswal was a heart patient and had possibly suffered a cardiac arrest due to excessive drinking that night.
They denied any involvement in his death and said that there was no attempt to kill him.
But since that day in 1990, when their advocates filed their appeal, the high court did not hear their appeal till July 3 this year. During this period, their bail prayers had been heard several times — Kishore even managed to convince the court that he could be let out — but never their appeal.
Even as justice continued to elude them, Betai Mahato died in jail in 1998, while Uttam turned insane.
On July 1, when advocates Ravishankar Chatterjee and Ashim Roy drew the attention of the court to the plight of their clients, the judges said they were “unaware” of it.
On Tuesday, the division bench of Justices S.B. Roy and N.C. Seal set aside the life sentence given by the trial court and sentenced them to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment.
While delivering their verdict, the judges observed that since they could not establish whose “blow” led to Jaiswal’s death, they could not hand out the life sentence to any of the accused.