Updated: January 24, 2021 2:02:43 am
With the state legislature’s joint selection committee inviting submissions from expert groups and lawyers on the proposed Shakti Act, a criticism voiced before the panel is that instead of coming up with new provisions, the need is to strengthen the laws that are already there.
Some of the provisions included in the draft Bill already exist but require better implementation, experts have said.
For instance, the Bill proposes providing victims rehabilitation, legal aid, counselling and medical support. The Manodhairya scheme, introduced in 2013 by the Maharashtra government, already provides these.
According to activists, unlike similar schemes in other states, instead of making it easier for victims to receive assistance, Manodhairya scheme cannot be accessed easily.
“The scheme was initially introduced to ensure immediate assistance to a victim of rape, child sexual abuse or acid attack. From being implemented by the women and child development department, it is now handled by the District Legal Services Authority. It requires the victim to appear before a panel and answer questions. Some installment of the money is disbursed after conviction, making it difficult for the victims to get access to couselling, medical or legal help immediately,” said advocate Flavia Agnes, founder of Majlis Manch, a legal centre for women’s rights.
“Similarly, many provisions in the draft Shakti Bill, including death penalty, already exists,” she added.
Many like Agnes have spoken against the death penalty stating that since in a majority of cases, the accused are known to the victims, including close family members, this may make reporting sexual offences difficult.
The draft also proposes establishing one-stop crisis centres, which were formulated by the Union government in 2015. Some of these centres were set up in Maharashtra in 2019. According to experts, an audit could instead be conducted on the centres to determine its requirements.
Further, the draft proposes completion of investigation within 15 days of filing an FIR and trial within 30 days. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act has already provisions for cases to be disposed within a year from when courts take cognizance.
A report released in 2018 – Implementation of the POCSO Act, 2012 by Special Courts: Challenges and Issues – by the Centre for Child and the Law of the National Law School of India University, has stated that in Maharashtra, investigation and trial in only 37 per cent cases were completed in a year. It added that the acquittal rate and the rate of victims turning hostile was highest in these matters.
“A hurried investigation and trial would more often than not lead to miscarriage of justice. Neither the police nor the courts have an infrastructure to comply with these time frames and the same will only result in unfair trials and more acquittals,” a submission made before the committee by Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti and Forum Against Oppression of Women in Mumbai last week stated.
The 22-member committee – including eight women – headed by Home Minister Anil Deshmukh has held meetings in Nagpur and Mumbai. Another is scheduled in Aurangabad.
Some committee members said that they were surprised that many suggestions received were critical of the law. “A number of organisations expressed their concerns regarding certain provisions of the Bill – for instance, death penalty, speedy trials and the problems in implementation. We are taking note and will voice these concerns when the Bill is discussed,” said BJP MLA Rahul Narvekar, a member of the committee.
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