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Twenty seven years after a grocer was held guilty of selling adulterated oil and set about to prove his innocence, the Supreme Court has rejected his plea in a case that exposes the huge backlog of cases in Indian courts.

A bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph held Roorkee shopkeeper Nand Lal guilty of selling adulterated mustard oil and endorsed the one-year jail term awarded to him by a trial court in 1983.

The bench, however, reduced Nand Lal’s sentence to the imprisonment already undergone by him soon after the case was registered in November 1983.

In its order Monday, the bench showed mercy towards Nand Lal noting that he had been running around in courts for the last 27 years during which he turned into a frail 70-year-old elderly man from a 43-year-old offender.

Nand Lal has maintained all these years that the oil he was selling was not meant for consumption but for burning lamps.

His problems began in 1980 around Diwali when a food inspector visited his shop near a Roorkee bus stand and bought 375 gm of mustard oil with a cash memo. He sent the oil to a food lab in Kolkata to check its purity.

The lab found the oil adulterated. Nand Lal was arrested and sent to jail and later released on bail pending trial. The trial court convicted him Nov 27, 1983, and sentenced him to one-year jail.

To prove his innocence, Nand Lal waged a long legal battle. But at each tier of the judiciary, including the sessions court and the Uttaranchal High Court, his appeal against conviction was dismissed.

The shopkeeper eventually approached the Supreme Court in 2006 and pleaded that the oil, whose sample was taken from his shop, was not meant for consumption. It was only to be used for burning lamps during the festival of lights.

But his plea failed to impress the apex court which dismissed his argument. The court, however, showed leniency towards Nand Lal who ran around in courts for three decades for a petty offence and reduced his sentence to the imprisonment already undergone by him.

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