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Will fast-track courts slow down as they get additional cases to handle?

Punjab and Haryana high court gave charge of NDPS cases, civil and criminal appeals to special court at UT district courts

punjab Updated: Jul 07, 2018 13:38 IST
Aneesha bedi
Aneesha bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
fast-track courts,POCSO,Protection of Children from Sexual Offences

Despite the rising graph of crimes against women and minors and a perception poll rating India as the most unsafe country in the world, special courts set up to deal with such cases, including those under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, have to take on extra workload.

One such special court at Chandigarh District Courts in Sector 43, has been recently given charge of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) cases, Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) trials, and civil and criminal appeals.

The move follows recent directions by the Punjab and Haryana high court to district and sessions judge of UT, asking for speedy disposal of cases, especially in view of the slow-moving cases at the special POCSO court. A target for disposal of 150 cases has been set till March 31, 2019.

Asper the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, the Centre had proposed setting up 1,800 fast-track courts at a cost of ₹4,144 crore.Even the Justice JS Verma committee on criminal law reforms set up after the Nirbhaya gang rape of 2012, urged in its 2013 report to states to set up fast-track courts for sexual assault cases.The special court in Chandigarh was set up in the same year.

Various stakeholders believe the additional ‘burden’ of other cases is likely to slow down POCSO cases, defeating the purpose of special fast track courts.

The high court, in fact, has also directed the exclusive court dealing with heinous crimes against women to dispose of such cases and those under POCSO Act within one year from the date of commitment/presentation of challan.

When contacted, additional district and sessions judge Aaradhna Sawhney, officiating in place of the district and sessions judge of the Sector 43 court, who is on leave, preferred not to comment on the issue. However, a senior court official mentioned that if the pendency in the special court for women was below 75, then the court could handle other revision petitions as per HC’s guidelines.

The HC guidelines had initially recommended that other cases such as domestic violence against women be tried by these courts.

Advocate Manjit Sandhu, who is part of the POCSO panel, said, “There are certain provisions under the POCSO Act according to which these are supposed to be child-friendly courts. Executing other trials isn’t perhaps the wisest move I believe and will bear an impact on victims.”

Similarly, Harish Bhardwaj, a criminal lawyer, believes civil appeals and NDPS Act cases for which evidence gathering is a long-term process, are bound to have an impact on women’s rape cases. “A lot of these are in-camera proceedings,” he added.

To cite an example, a total of nine fresh MACT cases were filed before the special POCSO court (at the Chandigarh District Courts in Sector 43) on Wednesday, which will only be taken up when additional district and sessions judge Poonam R Joshi returns from leave.

However, a former public prosecutor requesting anonymity said the move would dilute the relevance of a POCSO court or one meant exclusively to deal with women-related crimes.

It may be important to add that pendency of cases of crime against women as per the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report (2017), was 72.9%.

A look at the numbers
  • Pendency report for POCSO court in 2017-18: 65 cases
  • Target for 2018-19: 150 of the oldest cases (including 25 oldest petitions close to execution)
  • Pendency of cases of crimes against women till June 30: 57 cases

First Published: Jul 07, 2018 13:37 IST