Ghaziabad has high level of acquittals in Pocso cases, finds data
Ghaziabad: A majority of cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act in Ghaziabad over the last three years have ended in acquittals. Prosecution officers said on average, 85% of all such cases have ended in an acquittal and they attribute this high rate to witnesses turning hostile as well as parties agreeing on out-of-court settlements.
The data revealed that 39 (88%) of 44 cases which went to trial in 2017 at the Ghaziabad court ended in an acquittal. In 2018, of the 24 cases that went to trial, 19 (79%) ended in an acquittal. From January 1 to July 30 in 2019, eight (88%) of nine cases decided so far ended in acquittals.
Prosecution officers say this is mainly due to the parties reaching out-of-court settlements or witnesses turning hostile during the trial. “However, in cases where witnesses turn hostile, the court has directed proceedings under Section 344 of the Criminal Procedure Code against the person concerned,” Ranvir Singh Dagar, senior public prosecutor, Pocso court in Ghaziabad, said.
According to the official data, the police sent charge sheets in 226 Pocso cases to court in 2019 (January to July) while they sent 356 in 2018, 276 in 2017, and 271 in 2016.
The prosecution officer said during the past two years, he could find only a single case suitable for filing an appeal in a higher court against the acquittal. The case was the rape of a minor in 2015 under the jurisdiction of Masuri police station area.
“This was the only cases in the past so many years in which I decided to file an appeal. There were some contradictions in the chief examination and the cross examination of the victim and the accused was given the benefit of the doubt. In other cases, there is almost no scope left after witnesses turn hostile or due to out-of-court settlements,” he added.
According to officials, the only Ghaziabad Pocso court has a list of 1,477 pending cases. The Act defines a child as any person below 18 years of age and it is gender neutral. The police said Pocso cases are regularly monitored by a special cell and investigation is taken up expeditiously.
“The victim and the witnesses cooperate during investigation but it has been observed that they avoid pursuing the case during the trial stage. This could be due to social pressures and because many often do not want the hassles of a prolonged trial,” said Shlok Kumar, superintendent of police (city).
“In cases where the evidence is not just based on statements, and is supplemented by CCTV footage, electronic records, etc, the conviction becomes easier even if witnesses turn hostile,” he said.
The Centre, in July, had approved amendments to the Pocso Act, including the introduction of death penalty in cases of aggravated sexual offences. However, the number of acquittals has raised concerns.
“The Act should have more penal provisions against hostile witnesses and also for instances of ambiguous allegations which become difficult to prove. Since the Act has stringent punishments, it also requires a high level/standard of proofs to get a conviction. In most cases, people are from the lower strata of society. So it becomes difficult for them to provide a higher level of evidence, the kind that is needed to get the accused convicted. In cases where the accused is a relative or known to the victim, the societal pressures also comes into play,” Satish Tamta, a senior lawyer at the Delhi high court, said.