The recent report by Praja highlights what has been suspected all along that crimes against women & children are treated casually.. This explains the fact, that, more than 90% cases are pending trials in courts.
Hence, conviction is less than 40 % .The reasons can be many. One major reason is shortage of manpower or rather human power. The highest shortage is in forensic laboratories where its 40%, followed by public prosecutors where its 28% shortage. Next is the police, where shortage of personnel is 18% & in sessions courts, the shortage is 14% .Even the Supreme Court & High Courts have vacancies & it takes years to fill up the vacancies. Obviously, all this affects deliverance of justice .And ,when ,at the grassroot level, there are vacancies at sessions courts, & amongst the police, the public prosecutors, & in the forensic laboratories, women & children continue to suffer as their lives are marred by violence.
Even in cases that needed to be tried under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences ( POCSO) Act ,just about half of the cases have been tried in special courts as mandated under the POCSO act. And only 44 out of a total 220 cases tried under POCSO reached the stage of judgement in 2019. In, 2020 , because of COVID, the situation has definitely worsened. All this will add to a huge backlog of cases in the future.
As per the National Judicial Data Grid ,the backlog of cases is a whooping 37.7 million ! This works out to 3.7 million cases pending for 10 years, Out of these 3.7 million cases, 2.8 million cases before the district courts & 0.92 million cases before the High Courts have remained pending. And that’s not all. Nearly, 6,60,000 cases have remained pending for more than two decades & another, 1,31,000 have remained unresolved for more than 30 years. All this adds to a huge economic cost. Moreover, delay in justice is as good as denial of justice.
Capital punishment or death penalty is an incorrect response to check crimes against women & children. Capital punishment is not a deterrent .It is an expensive process & since nearly 75 % of the accused on the death row are from the marginalised sections of society, it gets too exorbitant .And death penalty has not acted as a deterrent .If death penalty is the answer then murders should have stopped. And yet, murders continue. Capital punishment is like revenge & this has therefore no place in a civil society. And cases in which capital punishment is awarded take years to end. And this makes it a long & winding process. It is traumatic for the victim, their families & even for the accused & their families. .And where is the scope to correct if a person is given capital punishment & later its discovered that the accused who suffered the death penalty ,had not committed the alleged crime ?
Many states have brought in the death penalty in case of sexual assaults' of children below 12 years under POCSO. And the effect is ,that there are hardly any convictions. Because ,in most cases of sexual abuse of children , the accused ( more than 90% ) are from the family and friends. And so the victim or survivor is pressurized to keep silent & not depose against the accused.
The pandemic has led to an exponential increase in cases of domestic violence .And even in such cases, it is likely that the women who are the victims and survivors , will choose to remain silent .They would rather not speak up against their family members. So death penalty will make this complaining against family members nearly impossible.
Faster arrests , thorough investigation & fast tracking of cases is needed to curb rising crimes against women & children.
How can the pendency of cases involving women & kids be brought down ? Obviously by decisions of the courts .And that can happen only when the courts function with full capacity. That means all vacancies need to be filled up. And this should include vacancies at the levels of judiciary, at the level of police , at the level of public prosecutors and also at the level of forensic laboratories. It's the entire gamut of the judicial system that needs to be covered.
Another step that needs to be taken is to fill up all the vacancies that exist across all the courts, from the lowest till the highest levels. This will improve the judge to population ratio & help in brining down the backlog of cases. The Advocate General of India, Mr Venugopal recently told the Supreme Court that there is a lot of gender bias in the judiciary .He opined that as many as 50 % of judges need to be women to make it non biased.
A suggestion is to temporarily increase the number of lower courts by appointing willing law graduates as judges .Such temporary judges will be paid only salary .They will be ineligible for other benefits .And as soon as the backlog of cases end, these temporary judges will be retired without any benefits. Of course, the most suitable of them can be absorbed into the judicial services after the requisite examinations & interviews & other relevant criteria. And mostly these temporary judges can be from women candidates. Even the courts which have to try POCSO cases can be headed majorly by women. Because women have a better understanding of children & their trauma. The temporary judges can try a majority of the cases dealing with women & children as women are better equipped to deal with such cases.
The Supreme Court guidelines as laid down in the Vishaka case ( which dealt with sexual harassment at the workplace ) stated that the internal complaints committee in any organisation must be headed by a woman .At least half of the members of this committee must be women. It follows therefore that women must have an equally importantly role to play in violent crimes affecting women & children
Similarly, other temporary posts can be created across the entire gamut of the criminal justice system whereby police personnel, the public prosecutors, the forensic team, can be majorly women. And these temporary posts can be ended once the pendency of cases gets back to manageable proportions. Here also, the most suitable ones can be absorbed into the permanent services through examinations, interviews & other relevant criteria. The Constitution of India allows reservation in favour of women & hence these judicial, police , public prosecution & forensic science jobs in favour of women are as per the Fundamental Right under Article 15 ( 3 ).
Another way to reduce the huge backlog of cases is to allow the courts & other judicial & quasi judicial authorities to work in shifts. In Maharashtra, the lower courts will be working in two shifts .And this, is indeed, the urgent need of the day. In fact, not just the lower courts, even the High Courts & Supreme Court need to work in shifts to clear the huge backlog of cases. If this happens, the backlog will end soon & then all courts can resume single shift working.
And as women get employed , the GDP of our country will rise by 27 % .Hence, employing women as judges, police personnel, public prosecutors & forensic scientists will be a WIN WIN situation for all !!! It will make the society safer for women & children as crimes are dealt with promptly & justice is delivered. Economy will improve & the backlog of cases will reduce.
And this is in accordance with India’s position on the international stage. India is signatory to the International Covenant on Civil & Political rights as also Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women .
And this pandemic has given us a chance to implement the aforesaid ideas , which can only lead us ahead in the direction of a better tomorrow !