Despite a sustained UN campaign and a Maharashtra government resolution in 2001 to set up human rights courts, there has been little progress in this regard so far in the state in 14 years.
One of the objectives of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, was the establishment of human rights courts at the district level. Eight years after the act, the law and judiciary department of the Maharashtra government issued a circular on May 30, 2001, directing that a sessions court in each district be designated as a human rights court to try offences under the Act.
In September this year, Pune-based advocate Asim Sarode, who has been working in the field of human rights for 16 years now, and Nagpur-based advocate Smita Singalkar, member of district criminal injuries and rehabilitation board, filed a PIL in this regard at the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court.
On Thursday, they plan to submit a memorandum of demands to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for setting up of designated human rights courts.
Sarode said he had faced various rejections and frustrations while trying to promote the concept of human rights from the ground level.
“It is very difficult to talk about constitutional rights at the lower judiciary level. On the other hand, our experience tells us that approaching alternate forums for justice in cases of human rights violations is also very difficult for the common people,” he said.
When contacted, R G Bhagwat, joint secretary at the state’s law and judiciary department, said several sessions courts had been designated as human rights courts to deal with violations under Prevention of Corruption Act, Atrocities Act, Food and Adulteration Act and others.
However, Sarode has claimed in the PIL that while efforts have been made to set up special courts, their functioning is still not effective and efficient and judges at these courts are unable to distinguish between cases of violations against human rights and otherwise.
“According to data, there are 14,162 cases pending at the state human rights commission. Human rights courts at the district level can ensure speedy disposal of such cases,” Sarode said.
Long road to justice
According to Anjali Pawar of NGO Sakhi, the absence of special courts to deal with abuse of weaker groups such as children who fall prey to sexual and physical harassment makes the road to justice painful and long. “We have national and state commissions for protection of children but these bodies are devoid of any power. Their directives rarely lead to any tangible action which can be called fitting justice. While working on these issues, we feel the need for special courts with required facilities, infrastructure and trained, legal assistance for victims,” said Pawar.
Similarly, special courts as envisaged in the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act have never come up.
This, lawyers say, is hindering the course of justice. “What we have today is the practice of designated courts handling cases falling under Atrocities Act. Whenever an incident happens, a court is designated to hear the case. This is not what the Act envisages. It talks of establishment of special courts which will exclusively deal with these cases and will have the expertise and infrastructure for the same. In the absence of this, we see cases like that of the killing of Dalit youths at Sonai and Kharda village of Ahmednagar dragging along for years,” said advocate Dr Sanjay Dabhade who deals with such cases.