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India: How 'Pune Porsche' case exposes corruption epidemic

Shakeel Sobhan in New Delhi
July 8, 2024

The story is simple: A minor gets drunk, gets into the family Porsche, crashes it and kills two people. But its aftermath reveals layers upon layers of systemic corruption in India.

Porsche Taycan GTS shown on German streets
The underage driver was behind the wheel of a Porsche Taycan, a luxury electric sports carImage: Arnulf Hettrich/imageBROKER/picture alliance

The "Pune Porsche" case — involving an inebriated 17-year-old crashing a luxury car and killing two people — has become a showcase for corruption in India.

In the early hours of May 19, two young IT professionals — Aneesh Awadhiya and Ashwini Koshta — were traveling on a motorbike together in Pune, in India's western Maharashtra state, when they were hit and killed by a speeding Porsche Taycan car. The boy reportedly tried to escape but was detained by bystanders, with social media videos apparently showing a crowd of people manhandling and hitting the drunk driver.

Most of the outcry, however, came in the aftermath of the incident, with many in India saying the boy's family and India's authorities were trying to cover it up. It eventually led to the arrests of the teen driver's mother, father and grandfather, the owners of the restaurants that served liquor to the minor, and two doctors.

It also got Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted by the opposition.

Driver out on bail, asked to write an essay

Within 15 hours of the crash, the boy was granted bail by a Juvenile Justice Board (JJB).

In India, the JJB is a judicial body separate from the criminal court, dealing with minors to ensure they are given a chance for "rehabilitation and reintegration." In this case, the bail involved stipulations such as directing the underage driver to visit the office of the traffic police to study rules and regulations and prepare a presentation on it within 15 days. Further bail conditions required him to undergo de-addiction counseling, as well as psychological and psychiatric evaluation.

Helmet Man: India's unlikely road safety activist

Also, the teen was ordered to write a 300-word essay on the effects of road accidents.

The last order in particular prompted anger in India's media. But Sneha Singh, a child rights lawyer, says the provisions imposed by the JJB in Maharashtra were "perfect."

As a child rights lawyer, she said the de-addiction counseling was especially important in this case.

Teen's family arrested

The outrage, however, continued to build amid reports of the boy's family members attempting to manipulate evidence.

Both his father, an affluent real estate developer, and his grandfather were arrested on suspicion of trying to coerce the family driver to take the blame for the accident. Authorities said CCTV footage disproved this narrative.

The father also faced charges for apparently allowing his minor son to drive the Porsche without a license and consume alcohol. More charges were filed against him over unrelated issues, allegedly exposing the grandfather's links to the criminal underworld.

Meanwhile, the driver's mother was arrested for evidence tampering. Allegedly, the minor's blood sample was exchanged with his mother to keep the blood alcohol level from being detected. Two doctors who facilitated this exchange were also arrested.

A restaurant owner and two managers were arrested for serving liquor to a minor. 

In what could be seen as an attempt at damage control, Pune police has now assigned 100 officers to over a dozen teams to cover various aspects of the investigation. The police also sought a review of the JJB bail order, and the minor was subsequently sent to an observation home. Pune police contended that the juvenile should be tried as an adult.

Pandora's box of corruption

Veteran Pune-based journalist Shoumojit Banerjee has covered the incident since the news broke.

He warned that the probe into the deaths "opened a Pandora's box of high corruption, engulfing the police, medical and legal professions."

 "Had justice taken its natural course, the case would have not snowballed," he added.

Going electric in Indian cities

The case also took a political turn when Sunil Tingre, a state legislative assembly member, appeared at the police station at the behest of the minor's father on the night of the accident. Tingre's party is in coalition with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state assembly. Both parties were quick to condemn the issue and promise swift action.

India's government now faces increasing pressure to act and give credence to Modi's proclaimed anti-corruption stance. Leading opposition figure Rahul Gandhi has already took shots at the prime minister, saying justice "should be the same for everyone, for the rich and the poor."

The BJP lost its outright majority in India's parliament in the general election held this year, and with Maharashtra's state elections slated for later this year, the ruling coalition cannot afford to risk public ire.

"This case is keeping the government on its toes," Banerjee says.

Are India's rich getting their way?

Vijay Kumbhar, based in Pune, has been an anti-corruption activist for 22 years. He is also one of the prominent voices on social media bringing attention to the Pune Porsche case.

Kumbhar warns there is "no control over the prevalent corruption" in India at the moment.

"Definitely the rich in India can get away with everything, even circumventing the law," he said.

According to the latest Transparency International report, India ranks 93 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2023, having fallen a rank from the year before.

Journalist Banerjee says the death of two software engineers in Maharashtra is symbolic of wider issues in India. "The case exposes the rot at the heart of the system."

Edited by: Darko Janjevic

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