By Punit Mishra
It was with much fanfare that on July 18 last year, the Centre announced the setting up of 1,023 fast-track courts (FTCs) to clear all pending rape and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) cases. The centre took the decision after it, some say belatedly, woke up to the alarming increase in the number of cases across the country, especially of girls aged 12 and below.
While state statements waxed eloquent welcoming the centre’s decision to act tough, the sad fact remains that very few states have actually committed to setting up of the FTCs. Data collated by India Legal show only a handful of states such as Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Assam, Goa, Kerala and Andhra have committed to the setting up of FTCs while a majority of the states have turned a blind idea to the proposal. Most of the states that have chosen to sit on the matter happen to be ruled by the BJP.
As per the data collated, Odisha has proposed the setting up of 45 FTCs, Delhi 18, Goa 3. Kerala, the state with the highest per capita rape rate have proposed 57 while Uttar Pradesh has proposed maximum number of FTCs at 218. That takes the total to 314, far less than the 1,023 that the centre had grandiloquently announced last year. This throws up the important question: will it make any difference in decreasing pendency in rape and POCSO cases as has been claimed by the Centre.
It maybe noted that the Centre, when proposed setting up of 1,023 FTCs, had claimed that 18 states have come on board for the proposal. These included Tripura, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya, Bihar, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Mizoram, Goa, Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Haryana. Many of these are turning a deaf ear.
Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani while replying to a Rajya Sabha debate on POCSO amendment said: “Recognising that justice delayed is justice denied, the government has sanctioned 1023 fast track courts, particularly to be made for dispensing cases which were pending under POCSO.”
She had further said: “The government reached out to each state and 18 states have consented to set up this court. We have ensured that an expenditure of Rs 767 crore of which the government of India support would be Rs 474 crore is now given so that these fast-track courts are established within the limited time frame of 2019-2021.” But the reality on the ground negates the claims as made by the minister that 18 states have committed to the proposal.
More so, the data also contests claims of the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who recently said that the law ministry plans to clear backlog pertaining to rape and POCSO in just one year with FTCs. But it is highly unlikely to achieve these targets with little co-operation from the states.
So, it is incumbent on the states to use their fund which has been earmarked to set up FTCs and also on Centre to ensure the setting up of FTCs otherwise the pendency in rape and POCSO will increase.