IN August this year, when the Protection of Civil Rights Cell started dusting old cases pending trial under the POA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, they came across a 14-year-old case of a clerical staff in a school in Goregaon who complained of “atrocity” at work and provided instances where he was overlooked for a promotion based on his caste. “Enough time had lapsed and no evidence had been collected,” said Quaiser Khalid, Special IG, Protection of Civil Rights. “A police officer has been asked to ensure closure to the case, either by finding the clerk or by preparing a final report.”
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A full probe across all the state ranges followed and, as it stands today, at least 165 cases, including murder and rape, are yet to be chargesheeted in the 2015-16 period. Data shows 278 serious offences under the POA Act are yet to get closure with the police still compiling evidence. “In at least 123 cases, the accused has gone to the High Court for bail and the Investigating Officer has stopped the probe. Further, in several cases, the High Court had not given a stay but the Investigating Officer misunderstood it to be so and stopped all investigation. Crucial time has been lost,” said Khalid.
“We have now called for a review in each of these cases. We are looking at what stage the probe was stopped and why. Further, we have asked all the investigating officers to understand that a stay has to come from the High Court in order. Without any express instructions, they cannot assume the case is closed for investigation. In many cases, the officers have assumed that since the accused is engaged in a hearing in the High Court, the case becomes out of bounds for probe. That is wrong,” he added.
A total of 694 cases as of December 2016 stands pending at various stages. Officials said they have been asked to apply for quashing of FIRs where the issue has been resolved or where further probe will not benefit. Further, serious offences have been asked to be fast-tracked and papers put forward. In terms of cases that have gone to courts, the numbers are depressing. In all, 8,333 cases are pending in court with 6,307 cases involving “atrocities” to Dalits under the POA Act. A total of 866 cases are awaiting police probe.
“The cases are pending by design. No one is serious when it comes to the oppressed classes. This is just an intent to defeat the purpose of the legislation. Firstly, an FIR is not registered in time, then you create blocks when the probe is on, then the chargesheet is delayed. Under the law, there are specific ranks which have to undertake the investigation which doesn’t happen on the ground, after filing of the chargesheets no witness protection is provided. There is a provision under this Act that cases filed will be taken up in special courts on priority. Plus, these special courts are also handling voluminous work, therefore, they are not exclusive courts as decided in legislation and they are not in sufficient numbers. The idea should be to finish the trial in time but the ground realities actually contradict and support more time to threaten or cajole the victims. Why not have these trials finished in a year or less than that? The policies should be such that the time period between the FIR and the final trial should be minimum as in such cases the fear is comparatively more than in a regular IPC case,” said senior advocate Mehmood Pracha, who has been an advisor to statutory bodies framing policies for cases involving Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
In October though, there were hints of course correction, at least to improve and decrease the pendency of cases in courts. Notifications issued in October 2016 state existing special courts in Aurangabad, Nagpur and Thane to try offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 along with all existing courts of sessions in Amravati, Nashik, Pune and Mumbai and all district sub-divisions in the state to be designated as special courts under the Act.