Three years after SC order no additional POCSO courts set up in Mumbai, Thane, Pune

Published on Sep 25, 2022 12:11 AM IST

Mumbai: More than three years after a Supreme Court order to set up exclusive courts to prosecute cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, Mumbai, Thane and Pune have not set up any such court on account of the lack of retired sessions judges to head these courts, a senior court official said

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Mumbai: More than three years after a Supreme Court order to set up exclusive courts to prosecute cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, Mumbai, Thane and Pune have not set up any such court on account of the lack of retired sessions judges to head these courts, a senior court official said.

The official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that a proposal has now been sent to modify the appointment of presiding judges for these additional courts. The Bombay high court (HC) has asked the state government to allow it to promote senior judicial magistrates to ad-hoc sessions judges, who can then preside over these courts, instead of recruiting retired judicial officials, who have been seen to be unwilling to take up the assignment. The official referenced above said that the proposal is in an advanced stage for consideration.

On July 25, 2019, the top court directed the state to set up 138 special courts – based on a formula of 1 court for every 100 cases – by March 1, 2020. The majority of courts were to come up in Mumbai (26 courts) followed by Thane (18) and Pune (16) districts.

However, three years on the pendency of cases continues to remain high. According to the data compiled and reported by non-government organisation Praja, 92% of the 8,126 cases of crime against children were pending in courts and 89% of the 4,250 cases registered under POCSO was pending in courts in 2019-2020. A report by Praja also stated that of the 222 cases tried in 2019, only 20% were dealt with within a year, even though the law requires POCSO cases to be disposed of within a year.

Interestingly, the state government issued a Government Resolution (GR) on this only on March 4, 2020 -- three days after the deadline ended. Following this, the Bombay HC administration issued a notification for appointment of retired sessions court judges to preside over these exclusive courts.

The response from retired judicial officials has been very poor in major cities like Mumbai, Thane and Pune, the official said.

He said that in Mumbai existing court buildings were unable to accommodate additional courts, and a new building of Mazgaon court, which is under construction, might be the only space available.

These special courts were to be set up under National Mission for Safety of Women launched by the Centre pursuant to directions issued by the Supreme Court in a suo motu proceeding over alarming rise in the number of reported child rape cases.

In its order dated July 25, 2019, the Apex court had directed the central government and state governments to set up special fast track courts, exclusively to try offenders involved in crimes against women and children. The apex court had also laid down criteria, saying an exclusive or a designated special court be set up in every district where over 100 cases registered under the POCSO Act were pending.

The new courts were supposed to try the cases against children expeditiously and help reduce pendency. According to the report submitted before the Apex court, of the 33 districts in Maharashtra, four had more than 100 cases and 26 districts had more than 200 cases registered under POCSO Act at the relevant time and the Centre had decided to set up in all 138 additional courts in the state.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Charul Shah is senior reporter covering the legal beat for Hindustan Times. She has spent over a decade in the industry covering criminal investigations and judiciary from Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru.

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