|Till the early nineties, like millions of Mumbaikars, Pramod Dattaram Kode "" now the 54-year old special Tada (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) court judge who sentenced Sanjay Dutt to six years in prison "" would rush to the Thane station on the outskirts of Mumbai, have a paan and board a local train to attend the courts in south Mumbai.
But Kode's elevation in March 1996 as the special Tada court judge to try the 123 accused in the deadly 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case changed forever the carefree lifestyle of this Government Law College-educated judge who joined the Maharashtra judicial services in 1987 and became the principal judge in 1993.
The media-shy Kode "" who also sentenced 12 men to the gallows along with his more famous sentence on Dutt "" is today one of the most protected men in the country and lives under 24-hour police protection in an unmarked south Mumbai apartment.
"He is a down-to-earth and god-fearing person," says Farhana Shah, a lawyer who has represented 80 of the 123 accused since 1993 and had almost day-to-day interactions with the judge. "I had a good rapport with him and he never discriminated between seniors and juniors."
Kode, who received numerous anonymous warning letters during the 10-year trial asking him to be "rahemdil" or benevolent to the blast-accused, followed the law in its letter and spirit.
Of the 123 accused, Kode sentenced 100 and let off 23 on the basis of around 7,000 pages of documentary evidence; 13,000 pages of oral evidence; and 6,700 pages of statements of the accused prepared by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Kode listened to the deposition of 686 witnesses before arriving at his decision.
Though the trial of the Mumbai blast accused has gone down in history as the longest ever in India, the delay was not due to the man at the helm. Lawyers say Kode never took a single day off. He, in fact, attended court even after performing the last rites of his father and was at his desk in the makeshift court in Arthur Road jail the day his mother died.
Lawyers say that, during the trial, the judge was very accommodative of the needs of the accused. "He has an elephantine memory. For example, in between a serious debate, the judge would suddenly ask an accused how his relative was doing since he had previously made an application to visit an ailing relative," recalls a lawyer.
The softer side of the judge can be gauged by the fact that soon after sentencing the 48-year-old Dutt, Kode called him back, told him not to lose confidence and advised him to work in movies till he was 100 years old like the "hero of Mackenna's gold" "" Gregory Peck.
Dutt, who was convicted by Kode for possessing illegal arms, even called the judge a member of the family, as he'd granted him bail and permissions to go abroad for shootings. "He always gave us a patient hearing and was always asking about the welfare of the accused," says Shah.
As the curtains on the 1993 bomb-blast case comes down, Kode has proved that justice may be delayed but it cannot be denied to the 257 innocent who lost their lives in the blasts.