Fines and jail terms are punishments routinely imposed by courts all over the world. Both mean hardship awarded to the guilty. One is physical hardship and the other is financial hardship. Why then the victims of ‘Uphaar’ tragedy are not happy despite hefty fines of Rs. 60 Crore imposed on those responsible for the tragedy. A fine of Rs. 60 Crore is no small hardship.
I tried to find the reason for their disappointment and the only explanation I could find was what a friend told me quoting a popular political leader of united Punjab before Haryana was created, who said a Jaat committing a crime should be fined and a Bania doing so should go to jail. I was shocked by the direct insult aimed at the two communities by someone who I was told was a popular political leader. But my friend explained, it was not about caste. It was about rich people and poor people. Jaats then were poor (before Haryana was created and agriculture and later real estate boom followed).
Poor people everywhere in the world get a bad deal. They go hungry often. They also easily get into street brawls or are attracted to petty crimes. They are detained by police on mere suspicion and dumped in jails. Many of them are in and out of jails. They don’t dread jails. Those who cannot feed themselves actually may at hard times welcome the prospect of two free meals a day in jail. But a fine imposed on him is end of his world because money is what he does not have. It is what really hurts.
For rich people and particularly businessmen fines if not very very big, may be hardly a punishment. It can be written down as business loss and there may be chances to recoup the loss by raising the price of some of the stuff he sells. In such a case, fine imposed is indirectly paid by his customers.
This may be what the victims of ‘Uphaar’ tragedy may be feeling. They may have the perception that the guilty being builders are not exactly the people short of money.
That brings us to the question of fine and jail. Can we not change the laws in such a way that poor people committing a crimes are fined but not jailed (because fine hits them the hardest) while rich law breakers are only jailed but not fined. In fact this would substantially clear our jails of overcrowding, which today are populated by a large number of under trials accused of petty crimes, most of whom have no money for engaging lawyers to seek bail. With such a change, jails would then house only rich lawbreakers. Just one risk however, if jails are exclusively meant for only rich law breakers, the inmates may use their influence to turn jails into plush holiday resorts!
Subject: About disappointment of ‘Uphaar’ victims on the verdict- case
By Prabhat Sharma