Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has ordered that the trial of this case be conducted in a fast track court and also asked the police to file a charge sheet within a month. But in the reply given by the Ministry of Law and Justice in Parliament, shocking figures of the pending cases in Maharashtra's fast-track courts have come to light, according to which 1,63,112 cases are pending.
Considering these pending cases, people are wondering if these fast-track courts actually provide relief and justice to victims and survivors.
Fast-track courts have been set up across the country using the Nirbhaya Fund to provide speedy justice in cases of sexual abuse against women and children. Under the scheme, 138 courts got approval in Maharashtra, but only a few started functioning amongst them.
According to data from the Lok Sabha, in the year 2018, 1,60,642 cases have been settled in Maharashtra. In 2019, 29,779 cases were settled. But due to the slow judicial process due to waves of COVID, only 5,119 cases in 2020 and 3,039 cases so far in 2021 have seen verdicts. After UP, Maharashtra has the highest number of pending cases in its fast-track courts.
Social worker Aseem Sarode says that fast-track courts have become a misleading concept. He explained how back in 1998, the Central Finance Commission recommended setting up of fast-track courts in the state jails to reduce the number of prisoners serving sentences without being proven guilty and to reduce the expenditure on them. But after a few years, due to the closure of funds from the Centre for a few years, the quality of judgments was affected. While money then came through the Nirbhaya fund, it remained insufficient, Sarode explains.
Other than that several fast-track case verdicts started getting reversed in higher courts, including the Supreme Court, and that is why the pendency has started increasing.
We should insist on reforming the existing judicial system under the Special Courts Act, which recommends filing of charge sheet within 180 days and a decision within three months.
According to the data released by the NCRB 2020 report, Maharashtra has the highest number of pending cases at 2,07,962. Among these, in 74,039 cases there was insufficient evidence or the accused could not be traced. Among the cities, Mumbai stood second with 76,763 cases still pending. It is second only to Delhi, which had 92,622 pending cases.
With this, at the end of the year 2020, Maharashtra had the highest number of pending cases at 18,82,532. West Bengal with 14,55,107, Gujarat with 13,72,149, Bihar with 13,02,421, and Uttar Pradesh with 12,51,725 cases stood second, third, fourth, and fifth respectively.
Retired IPS officer Meera Borwankar believes that the pendency of cases on such a large scale shows that the 'fast courts' have failed to serve their purpose. We have to recruit more judicial officers and build more courts.
She says we have to involve more prosecutors and recruit more investigative officers. There is no other way but to double the expenditure on criminal justice. This system has completely collapsed. To improve this, technical resources like more forensic labs are needed.
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