The unprecedented public outrage and protests over the December 16 gangrape have given a new lease of life to the country's 1,200 fast-track courts.
It was not long ago that the government decided to wind up the fast-track courts citing financial hardship and vacancies of judges.
The central grants to states for running fast-track courts had been discontinued from March 31, 2011, after having funded them for 10 years since 2001. The Supreme Court, too, had upheld the Centre's decision in April this year.
The widespread outrage over the recent gangrape in the national Capital has now forced a rethink. On Saturday, the Union home ministry and Delhi government rushed to the Delhi High Court chief justice, seeking setting up of five fast-track courts for quick trials in cases of heinous crimes against women.
Similar requests from other states can't be ruled out.
This was in stark contrast to the government's response to a question in Parliament in May, during the Budget session. Former law minister Salman Khurshid had informed the Rajya Sabha: "The central government had provided financial assistance to state governments for fast-track courts from 2000-01 to 2010-11. The scheme has not been extended beyond March 2011."
The government had informed the Supreme Court that it was not possible for it to provide funds to states for running these courts, since maintenance of infrastructure and manpower, particularly judges, was a problem. The state governments could, however, continue with these courts if they wanted.
Surprisingly, even a state like Rajasthan, where these courts showed exemplary results by deciding some rape cases in a record time of less than three months, also converted its six fast-track courts into regular courts.
Fast-track courts were conceived by former law minister Arun Jaitley during the BJP-led NDA regime. The 11th Finance Commission had provided Rs. 500 crore for the ambitious project with the target of deciding long-pending criminal cases in a time-bound manner.
After the change of government in 2004, the UPA did not favour continuation of these courts, but following the Supreme Court's intervention, the scheme was extended till 2010. The UPA government reluctantly allowed the financial assistance to states for fast track courts for another year, but it finally decided to discontinue them last year.