Even as pendency in POCSO Act cases had grown by a whopping 165 per cent between 2017 and 2020 in Odisha, the State government here, surprisingly, seems quite disinterested in establishing Fast Track Courts.
How lackadaisical has been the State government's attitude is evidenced from the fact that despite the Centre making a provision of Rs 145 crore for bringing up 63 Fast Track Courts (FTCs) in Odisha, the total FTCs operational as of the date in the State stands at a big ZERO.
Only in adherence to the Supreme Court order, the Odisha government has set up mere 15 special POCSO courts in the State. But the number seems to be a droplet in the ocean. The sheer rise in cases pending for trial in these designated courts speaks volumes.
When in 2017 the total cases pending trial in the special POCSO courts were 1,808, the numbers grew to 4,798 by 2020. Significantly, in the pendency of POCSO Act cases at the trial stage, Odisha is placed eighth in the country.
In such a scenario, the obvious outcome then has been the conviction rate. The latest 2019 NCRB report puts the conviction rate in Odisha at a mere 25.6 per cent - means of every four accused, only one sees conviction in the State.
As a consequence, sexual assaults on girl children have increased in Odisha to a high of around 63 per cent in 2019 from a mere 28 per cent of total sexual assaults on women in 2013.
Consider a few samples to gauge the other side of delay syndrome.
• On August 5, 2021, the district sessions court in Jajpur convicted a man of rape committed in the year 2015. The judgement was passed after examing only 15 witnesses during the trial.
• On September 6, 2003. an accused was arrested during the investigation and remanded to judicial custody on September 8 that year. On October 1, 2004, the accused was released on bail. He was out on parole till he was convicted on Jan 19, 2012.
• But on Jul 23, 2021, Orissa HC released the accused of lack of evidence. Because, in the FIR, the victim had mentioned the name of one (who was later convicted) of the two accused. But during the trial, the victim changed her statement.
Ideal Time For Disposal Of A Case
The amendment to the Criminal Law Act in 2018 has prescribed a complete timeline for investigation, inquiry, trial and appeal in a rape case.
• Section 173 (1A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) prescribes two months time limit for completion of an investigation.
• Section 309 of Cr.P.C. prescribes two months time limit for completion of inquiry or trial
• Section 374 and section 377 of CrPC prescribe six months time limits for disposal of appeal filed by the convicted person and the State Government, respectively.
• Similarly, in POCSO cases too, Section 35(1) of the Act provides that the evidence of the child shall be recorded within thirty days of the Special Court taking cognizance of the offence.
• Section 35(2) of the POCSO Act provides that the Special Court shall complete the trial, as far as possible, within a period of one year from the date of taking cognizance of the offence.
But real data shows the number of POCSO cases pending for trial has grown manifold between 2017 and 2020, which is in conflict with both the 2018 Criminal Law Amendment Act and POSCO Act, 2012.
The Union Law Ministry has blamed the piling up of pending cases in states, including Odisha, to a severe crunch of FTCs and special courts. And in 2019, the Union Law Ministry has again granted a sanction for 45 special FTCs in Odisha to clear the high pendency. But as of date, Odisha has no single functional FTCs, shows the data with the Union Law Ministry.
FTC Country Map
A total of 956 FTCs are functional in the country when the total such courts proposed stood at 1800. In 2018, the number of functional FTCs nationally was 618. In the last two years, many states have increased their FTC count. The neighbours have scored over Odisha in setting up FTCs. Take a glance at the following.
• Chhattisgarh ---- Proposed FTCs ---- 28, Functional ---- 23
• Jharkhand -------- Proposed ----------- 50, Functional ---- 41
• West Bengal + A&N ----- Proposed -- 94, Functional ---- 88
• Andhra Pradesh ----------- Proposed --- 47, Functional ---- 21
• Odisha --- Proposed FTCs --------------- 63, Functional ---- 0