The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court rewards Robin Hoods

New Delhi, July 27 (PTI): The Supreme Court has slashed the jail terms of five persons who had done a Robin Hood in a remote Assam village 20 years ago.

They had snatched paddy from a hoarder’s house in Pahumara village, sold it to the poor at a fixed price and deposited the money earned with the owner of the paddy.

Robin Hood, the legendary medieval outlaw in Nottinghamshire, England, used to rob the rich and help the poor.

But in 1992, a trial court convicted the men for dacoity and sentenced them to five years’ imprisonment. A fine of Rs 5,000 was slapped on each of them. Eleven years later, Gauhati High Court took note of the crime and reduced their sentence to a year in prison and the fine to Rs 2,000 each.

Allowing their appeal against the high court order, an apex court bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice A. Lakshmanan ordered that the 62 days of imprisonment already undergone was sufficient punishment. It also reduced the fine to Rs 100 each.

Several villagers broke into the house of Ala Baux on the night of March 28, 1983 in Barpeta district of Assam and took away paddy from his granary.

Taking advantage of the scarcity prevailing then, Baux had stocked paddy and allegedly refused to sell them to villagers in dire need of food. Incensed villagers then stormed the house, tied up the inmates and took away the paddy.

However, after selling the paddy, they returned the sale proceeds to Baux, who had lodged a case of dacoity with the police.

After taking into account the evidence on record, the trial court judge said nobody had a right to snatch away others’ property. “As in the present case, it was done by five or more persons. That is dacoity,” he added.

The high court said: “We find that this is not a case of commission of dacoity for personal benefit. It is meant to help the villagers and the action may be viewed in the light of the prevailing situation.”

“...The basic aim of the mob was to get the relief, that is the paddy hoarded by the informant, and make it available to the villagers in those trying times. We, therefore, propose to take a lenient view in the matter and consider the fact that the incident had taken place about 20 years back,” it said.

Agreeing with the high court’s reasoning, the apex court further reduced their punishments.

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