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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

"What I felt while sentencing Yacoob Memon to be hanged till death!"- Inside the mind of a judge who gave death penalty to Yacoob Memon & sent Sanjay Dutt to jail.

He awarded capital punishment to 12 accused including 1993 Mumbai bombings accused Yacoob Memon.

He sentenced filmstar Sanjay Dutt 6 years of Jail.

He conducted one of the world's biggest criminal trial.

With a Z plus grade security, Justice Pramod Kode is one of the highest protected legal officer of India. He recently retired as a judge of Bombay High Court, before which he presided the high profile Special Tada Court of Mumbai.

Justice Kode entered into legal profession to fulfill his father's failed dream. His father aspired to be a lawyer but couldnt become one due to some reasons. Pramod Kode began his legal career in 1977 as a defence lawyer. When he won the first case for his clients, he happily rushed home to share this accomplishment with his wife. His clients were a married woman & his paramour. Both were accused of murdering the woman's husband. With his legal skills Kode managed to get them acquitted. When Kode told about this victory to his wife, she got enraged & gave him an earful for supporting wrongdoers to escape punishment.Wife's verbal bashing deeply affected Kode & he felt a sense of guilt. Kode gave up working as a defence lawyer & instead began working as a government lawyer in Legal Aid Cell. Once a judge for whom Kode had profound respect taunted that Kode was working as a lawyer just to make money. He must become a judge to serve the society. With his encouragement Kode cleared the formalities & was soon appointed as a judge in sessions court of Mumbai. In 1996 he took over as the judge of special TADA court which was conducting trial of 12 March1993 serial blasts in Mumbai.

I got an opportunity recently to spend few hours with Justice Kode at his residence in Sion, Mumbai. In a conversation with me he spoke to me about things which otherwise he would not have been able to while in judicial service. Here are the excerpts:

Me: You are one of the judges who have given maximum number of death penalities. However, if you look across the world, death penalty as a form of punishment is being abolished. Only few of the states in USA are continuing with death penalty. Europe has abolished it. There are voices in India also who oppose death penalty. Do you think that it should be continued in India? If yes then why?

Justice Kode: See Jitendra, in India capital punishment is awarded only in special cases & as per past judgements of the Supreme Court. I have trust on our national laws & these laws are evolving with the time. In today’s situation if our legal system feels that death penalty must be continued then I support it.

Me: So you support it for its deterrence value?
Justice Kode: Capital punishment is not just for deterrence. There are so many other reasons and I can talk on them for hours. I will only say that considering all the aspects when our parliament and Supreme Court say that death penalty is necessary then I don’t contest their stand. Hopefully, a time might come when people will care for other’s rights and then death penalty will not be required.

Me: Sentencing somebody to death is not an easy decision. In your career as a judge you gave death penalty to 12 accused. At such times how were you able to numb your natural human emotions?
Justice Kode: First of all giving punishment to guilty is the duty of a judge. Not only judge, but everybody has to face situation where they have to take decisions. If a person doesn’t get such situations, his life is useless. When it comes to giving death penalty then emotions don’t count. A judge gives death penalty only when he is convinced considering all the aspects. Society makes the law, but this is also true that law is also for the society. Hence, if a death penalty is given, it is for the society. Punishment is not given to a person, but to the criminal elements within him. When the apex court considers that this man is not worth living in a society then only his death penalty is executed. He is hanged only if Supreme Court is convinced that if he is kept alive then it is likely that he will harm the society.

Me: Yacoob Memon is also one of the accused whom you sentenced to death. While covering the trial in your court, I had observed that he was a very different kind of accused. He developed a personal connect with lawyers, court staff & you by his general behaviour and gestures like wishing on festivals like Holi & Diwali. He was also the most educated accused. You used to see him for hours everyday. Any special observations about him?
Justice Kode: For me an accused is an accused. Everyday I had 5 hours meaning only 360 minutes to work. Shall I work during this limited time or notice the behaviour of accused persons? However, to answer your question I would say yes…he was a well educated person and behaved accordingly. Other thing which I observed about him was that he was a person of great tenacity. He pursued his point with firmness. However, his behaviour didn’t affect my judgement. He got the punishment for the crime he committed.

Me: You had another high profile accused Sanjay Dutt. You sent him to jail for 6 years. I remember that at the time of announcing the sentence you said- “Keep on doing acting for 100 years. I have just taken 6 years out of them”. What made you say this?
Justice Kode: No doubt Sanjay Dutt was a celebrity, but he never attempted to use this status to gain considerations in my court. He came from a Khandani family (cultured family) and behaved like one. Once he complained to me that whenever the prosecution referred to him, he was called a traitor or a terrorist. He was quite upset due to this. At the time of announcing the verdict, I found that he was not involved in conspiracy, training, landing of explosives & planting of bombs. He was just guilty of keeping pistol illegally and that also due to threat to his family. Hence, I acquitted him under TADA saying that you are not a terrorist. He is a good actor. I have seen his movies, his father’s movies, his mother’s movies. I wanted him to continue his work. Considering his young age, he should not breakdown, hence, I said those words to encourage him.

Me: Do you regret that Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon were not produced before you as accused?
Justice Kode: No. If they think that they are innocent, then they had a chance to stand the trial and get themselves freed from the charges. If they are not surrendering then it is clear what it means. I have full trust on Mumbai Police and CBI. They tried their best to get these accused but they have not been successful. They must not be blamed for it. Instead, they must be lauded for their professional work. They got most of the accused, filed such an elephantine chargesheet in a short time and got the accused punished.

Although, Justice Kode has retired as a judge, he takes up cases of arbitration. He spends his free time with his 2 daughters, one of them has taught him astrology. He is also a movie buff & likes to read Marathi novels. Some time is kept aside to praise God. Recently, he acted in a movie also where he played role of a –“Judge”.  

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