THE SPECIAL Court for crime against women that was started to keep vigil on the rising crime in the city seems to be losing its track as 60 per cent of accused were acquitted by the court in the past year.
The court has disposed of at least 87 cases pertaining to murder, rape, dowry death, harassment by husband and sexual exploitation of children under the The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 from April 2015 to April 2016, however, only 36 accused were convicted by the special court while the alleged offenders were let off in 51 cases.
Elaborating on the reasons for low conviction rate in the courts, a retired Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge, Justice Mehtab Singh Gill said, “There are two factors, according to me. One is the lacklustre ways in which the police handles the case after registering the FIR. They do not carry out the investigation of the case in a proper manner. Because there is tremendous political pressure on them in cases that involve influential people.”
He added, “There was a committee instituted by the Supreme Court of India which had come up with certain guidelines. It was specifically mentioned in the Prakash Singh Committee report that now we need to keep away the politics away from the investigation of cases. Once the police gets a fee hand in investigating the cases they will investigate the case in a free and fair manner.”
Another retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, who did not wish to be named, pointed out, “Another reason in cases where the prosecution is unable to establish the case is that the witnesses turn hostile. Witnesses are paid or threatened by the accused person or their family member. This happens as the trail is delayed for a long span of time during which the accused is able to win over the witness who turns hostile before the court.”
Agreeing with him, Justice Gill added, “It is due to the long-stretched trials due to which the witnesses usually turn hostile leading to acquittal in cases.
Commenting on the low conviction rate, Sukhchain Singh Gill, senior superintendent of Police, Chandigarh, said, “The cases that pertain to witnesses or complainant turning hostile are usually rape cases which lead to acquittal of the accused persons. If the victim retracts her statement in a rape case then the investigating agency can not do anything much. Once the case reaches the court we have a parvai officer who follows the case in the court. Its his job to ensure that all witnesses depose before the court and standby the statements.”
Some recent cases
In the sensational murder case of a model dating back to 2014, Puneet Sandhu, the deceased’s sister Avneet and mother Lakhwinder Kaur had turned hostile. As a result, the court acquitted all the four accused — Ramlal Chaudhary, his daughter Anju Walia, and Ramlal’s aides Supreet Singh and Manpreet Singh — on March 14 this year. Advocate Rabindra Pandit who was an advocate for the accused in Puneet Sandhu murder case said, “Courts always impart justice and are dependent on the witnesses and evidence available. If in some cases there is a compromise between the complainant and the accused the court cannot do anything. Also, the police investigations play a major role in it. There should be no fictitious evidence which damages the case to a major extent.”
In a case of rape earlier this year, the accused, Davinder Sharma, was acquitted from charges of allegedly raping an 18-year-old girl as the victim had turned hostile. The man was eventually acquitted.
In another case, orders were pronounced on April 8 this year whereby which the accused Ajay was acquitted from charges of raping a minor as the victim had turned hostile. The acquittal news came as a shocker to the the police in this case as the accused was acquitted within 16 days after submission of the chargesheet in which police had held him responsible for the crime.
On April 7 this year, Hari Vansh and Parmila (husband and mother-in-law of the woman Manisha who died) were also acquitted in a dowry death case. The victim, Manisha, committed suicide but the accused was acquitted as the complainant, Ram Vriksh Yadav, Manisha’s father, had turned hostile in the case.