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15 states, UTs fail to set up fast-track courts for speedy trial in rape cases

Dec 08, 2019

As brutal cases of rape and murder fan public outrage in the country, 15 states and Union Territories (UTs) have failed to set up fast- track special courts (FTSC) for speedy rape trials, ignoring repeated reminders from the Centre, officials familiar with the matter said.

These states have not even responded to the Centre’s proposal to start FTSCs to fast-track the trial of sexual assault cases, including those registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

The fact has emerged at a time when there has been a spurt in cases of rape and sexual offences against children, notably the rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor, who was burned to death last week on the outskirts Hyderabad by her attackers, sparking protests and candle-light vigils in the city and elsewhere in India .

In July this year, the Centre started an initiative under which 1,023 special courts were to be formed to dispose of 166,882 cases of rape and cases under the Pocso Act, pending trial in various subordinate courts. The Supreme Court, on November 13, also ordered the setting up FTSCs for quick disposal of over 160,000 Pocso cases.

Of the 1,023 FTCs,the Centre proposed earmarking 389 to deal exclusively with Pocso cases. The remaining courts were to deal with either rape cases or both rape and Pocso cases, depending on the backlog and requirement. Under the initiative, each FTSC had been expected to dispose of 41-42 cases in each quarter and at least 165 in a year.

Four months later, only 16 states and UTs have joined the scheme and the Union ministry of law and justice has released the first instalment of funds to set up the courts.

A senior official from the ministry of law said ~89.1 crore of the ~100 crore of the first instalment of earmarked funds had been allotted already.

The states are Jharkhand, Tripura, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, Manipur, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Delhi. The ministry has now received a request for financial assistance from Chandigarh.

Both Telangana and Uttar Pradesh – rape incidents at these two states have sparked public fury – did not take steps to designate special courts. Telangana constituted its first FTC on Wednesday after the rape and murder in Hyderabad. People in the law and justice ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said reminders were sent to the states on five occasions – September 5, October 15, October 22, November 5 and November 20.

“The purpose is to deliver time-bound justice to rape survivors,” said the official cited above.

There will be 495 FTSCs in the 16 states and UTs that have concurred with the scheme, of which 206 will be exclusive Pocso courts. As of now, 420 courts have been established and 161 Pocso courts have started functioning.

“Kerala has sought funds for 28 out of 56 FTSCs in the State. Rajasthan has also requested funds for only 26 as against 45 FTSCs and similarly Odisha has started 24 out of the 45 FTSCs it wants to have,” the official said. Delhi has requested funds for eight FTSCs as against 16 allocated in the scheme.

Senior Supreme Court advocate VV Giri, who assisted the top court in the case resulting in the November order relating to fast track courts for Pocso cases, said the states had abdicated their duty by not setting up FTSCs in a time-bound manner.

“There is no need to change the law. One needs a political will to set up FTSCs and not drag the matter. Besides, the state must also appoint a special prosecutor to conduct the trial on behalf of the prosecuting agency. The more the case gets prolonged, chances of tampering by the accused are also high,” Giri added.

Under the Centre’s scheme, FTSCs will be set up for one year, spread over two financial years, 2019-20 and 2020-21. A decision on the extension of the scheme beyond one year will depend on the recommendations in an external evaluation to be carried out in the third/fourth quarter of the scheme, and subsequent approvals of the competent authorities.

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