Sanjeev Nanda, three others held guilty in BMW case (Roundup)

September 2nd, 2008 - 11:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS) Nine years after Sanjeev Nanda, son of arms dealer Suresh Nanda, mowed down six people, including three policemen, while drunk and driving his BMW car, a court here Tuesday held him guilty and said the entire criminal justice and trial had been hijacked by the rich and influential.Nanda was returning from a party in Gurgaon, the upcoming suburb of the national capital, with his friends Manik Kapoor and Siddharth Gupta in the luxury car in the wee hours of Jan 10, 1999, when the car ran over six people, including three policemen, in south Delhi’s Lodhi Colony area.

The accident hit the headlines as a sensational case of the rich recklessly playing with the lives of the poor as it involved Nanda, the grandson of former navy chief S.M. Nanda and son of arms dealer Suresh Nanda, a British national.

A regular Page 3 celeb, Nanda did spend a few months in jail but was released on bail in May 1999.

On Tuesday when Additional Sessions judge Vinod Kumar found him guilty under section 304 (2) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), for which the maximum punishment is 10 years, Nanda’s father, grandmother Sumitra, mother Renu and sister Sonali broke down.

However, the court acquitted his friend Manik Kapoor, who was also in the car, stating that the prosecution had not been able to produce any concrete evidence against him except for a mere fingerprint on the outer body of the car.

The other accused in the case, businessman Rajiv Gupta - whose son Siddharth was also in the car but was acquitted in August 1999 - and his two domestic helps Bhola Nath and Sham Singh were held guilty of destroying evidence.

This is one of the first instances that a court has convicted the accused in a hit-and-run case under Section 304 (2). In most cases, the conviction is under Section 304 (1) - causing death by rash and negligent act - in which the maximum sentence is two years.

Nanda, a student of Delhi’s elite Modern School and a management student from Wharton, one of the finest B schools in the US, was found by the court to be drunk at the time of the accident.

“Sanjeev Nanda was so heavily drunk that knowledge can be validly imputed upon him that if he drives the vehicle he is likely to cause death of a human being passing on the road. Despite being drunk, the accused instead of carefully and slowly driving the vehicle, threw all the precautions away and drove the vehicle at excessively high speed,” the judge said in his 87-page order.

Calling it a landmark judgement, Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost his son and daughter 11 years ago when a fire in the Uphaar cinema killed 59 people, said it should bring about a sense of responsibility amongst people who indulge in rash driving.

“People too often have started taking things, even life, for granted. This judgement will be a lesson to all those people, even the influential ones, who are not careful on the roads,” said Krishnamoorthy, who fought a long battle for justice along with the relatives of the other victims before real estate tycoon brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal were held guilty by for criminal negligence.

But Pawan Kumar, son of Perulal, a police constable who died in the accident, said he had not much hope about the punishment that will be pronounced Wednesday.

“I am not happy. We waited for nine long years. These are rich people and I am sure they will get away with lighter punishment,” he told IANS.

According to sources, Nandas have paid Rs.1 million each to the families of the victims without the court’s directions.

Prince Singhal, a campaigner against drunken driving, said a strong punishment for Nanda would serve as a strong deterrent against drunk drivers who are responsible for a large number of deaths in India.

This high-profile case has seen tortuous twists and turns with even defence lawyer R.K. Anand and then special prosecutor I.U. Khan caught in a sting operation carried out by a television channel while they were trying to influence star witness, Sunil Kulkarni.

A subsequent inquiry by the Delhi High Court found both lawyers guilty and barred them from practice for four months and fined them Rs 2000 each.

“I am of the considered opinion that this is simply not a case of hobnobbing between the defence counsel and prosecution but also at some stage in the background, the investigating officer has been influenced who deliberately indulged in such perfunctory investigation that it causes serious prejudice to the prosecution,” said Judge Vinod Kumar.

After the accident, there was considerable debate about the Nandas and their source of immense wealth. His father Lt. Commander Suresh Nanda (ex-Indian Navy) heads the arms supply firm Crown Corporation, and grandfather S.M. Nanda also joined the arms trading business after retirement.

A year after the accident, the names of his father and grandfather appeared in the Barak Missile deal case. The scandal relating to corruption in the purchase of Barak Missile Systems by India from Israel is currently under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and several people including the Samata Party former treasurer R.K. Jain have been arrested.

In March this year, Sanjeev Nanda and his father were arrested for allegedly trying to bribe an income tax official in Mumbai and were remanded to 14 days judicial custody in Tihar.

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