Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Notwithstanding the COVID lockdown, all sort of police bandobust, major restrictions like night curfew in the State since March -June this year, the rape count in Odisha didn’t show any pandemic let up signs. Rather it touched a new high during the first six months of this pandemic year. The rapes this year have clocked higher than the average of cases during the last three years.

For the period of January to June, Odisha has recorded as many 7 rapes every day. In contrast, during the same period last year (2019), the daily rate of rape in Odisha was around 6. Such a high rate of sexual crime in the State looks daunting when for over 90 days Odisha was virtually under lockdown and other restrictions. Therefore, observers feel the State Home Department needs to take the number quite seriously.

As per the data released by Odisha Police, the State has recorded a total of 1,212 cases of rape during the period of January – June this year. The statistics further reveals that the total sexual assault cases this year has been over 8 per cent higher than the average cases of rape for the triennium average (TA) of years 2017-19. Even, the 6-month period of year 2019 had recorded only 1,149 rapes.

“The rate of rise in cases of rape in 2020 is around 5 per cent vis-a-vis 2019, which is not an alarming rise. The rate of rise is in sync with the population rise, “ said a senior police officer in State Crime Branch on the condition of anonymity.

However, former DGP Bipin Bihari Mishra speaking exclusively to said, “The yardstick to determine the enormity of any crime is TA (Triennium Average), not year-on –year rise. If the  rapes is 8 per cent higher than TA, then this shows that the rate of rape crime is alarming in the State.”

Spelling out the reasons, the former DGP blamed the lockdown itself for the rise in crimes against women.

He said, “ Police were busy in enforcing lockdown and its related restrictions. The policing duty has come to a near halt during the period. Beat patrolling has completely stopped. Moreover, police records and NCRB data also show nearly 98 per cent rapes were being perpetrated by acquaintances. Lockdown has emboldened the sick ones to unleash their animal instinct.”

Another disconcerting statistics to the fore is, the charge sheeting rate in case of rapes during the first 6-months of this year has tumbled down to mere 27 per cent. The data shows charge sheets have been filed in mere 328 cases, which boils down to  around 27 per cent. The NCRB data shows charge sheeting rate in women crimes like rape in Odisha had been around 59-60 per cent. The dip this year is quite shocking. Moreover, the State police could not complete preliminary inquiry in nearly 30 per cent of rape crimes this year, data revealed.

“This fall is really disturbing. It seems due to lockdown and other restrictions, Police had  a tough time in collecting evidences to frame the charge sheet. This seems to be one ofmajor  the reason behind poor charge sheeting rate,” explained former DGP Bipin Bihari Mishra..

What the Law  Says?

As per the law of the land, it is mandated by law to file a charge-sheet within 90-days of registration of an FIR in a rape case. And Odisha government has reduced the time-limit further to 60-days.

What Past Record Say?

The charge sheeting  rate of around 60 per cent seems half true. An analysis of data for the year 2019 puts the story in right perspective.

Consider this.  The year 2019 saw 2,590 case of rapes. Though the charge-sheeting rate in that year was 59 per cent, the truth is only 40 per cent of the cases registered last year had seen completion of preliminary inquiry. This shows that the higher charge-sheeting rate in 2019 was due to charge-sheets on cases from the previous years.

“Taking a longer time to complete preliminary inquiry or any delay in conducting the preliminary inquiry itself is not good. Because, it will give a long rope to the accused to influence witnesses, which could lead to acquittal of the accused, reasoned senior Advocate Nishikant Mahapatra.

The analysis also shows Mayurbhanj, which has recorded maximum rape cases in the State, had a poor conviction rate of around 11 per cent. The same trend observed in other districts that have recorded maximum sexual crimes against women every year are : Koraput, Keonjhar, Balasore, Balangir, Kendrapara, Bhadrak-Jajpur, Sambalpur, Rourkela, Sundergarh, Boudh and Ganjam.

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