A committee appointed by the Chhattisgarh government to “review cases against Scheduled Tribes and other residents of the Naxal region in the state” is set to begin its work this month. It will look at cases involving more than 23,000 tribals.
The committee of Justice A K Patnaik, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, will hold its first meeting in Raipur on October 30 and 31 as it starts looking at cases of over 16,475 tribals accused by police in a range of cases and
another 6,743 being held as undertrials, mostly in Bijapur, Sukma and Bastar districts.
Sources told The Indian Express that the committee will start work and refer to the state government, as per its terms of reference, cases that merit a relook or withdrawal of proceedings.
The terms of reference of the committee state that where it does not find material to continue matters against the accused, it would have the remit to recommend withdrawal of prosecution, dropping of cases in which police are yet to file a report before the court, or recommend appropriate plea bargaining, as laid out in the Code of Criminal Procedure. The buck on the recommendations of this committee will stop with the state government which will finally decide on the matters.
The committee will review the cases of 4,007 accused in 1,141 cases under police investigation, in seven districts which involve Scheduled Tribes. These include 1,552 accused in 340 cases classified as ‘Naxal cases’. The maximum cases of Naxal accused are in Sukma district, followed by Bijapur while the maximum number of undertrials under Naxal cases are in Bastar district, followed by Sukma district.
As of April 30, 2019, a total of 6,743 tribals are being held as undertrials in jail, including 1,039 in Naxal cases. Another 16,475 tribals are being held as accused under a spectrum of cases in the state, which include 5,239 held under Naxal matters.
These also include tribals who have not appealed against their detention, either due to poverty or ignorance or lack of legal support. As on April 25, 2019, across seven jails in the state, 1,977 from Scheduled Tribes were being held as undertrials, who have not appealed, while there are 589 tribals who have been convicted and have not appealed.
The terms of reference for the committee were finalised on September 11. These terms consist of examining all cases registered by the police and/or pending in different courts for offences under the Indian Penal Code, National Security Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other central Acts.
The committee will also examine pending offences under the Excise Act and local Acts. After all such examination of criminal cases, the committee will decide which cases merit recommendation for “withdrawal of prosecution of cases pending in different courts under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 and for dropping of cases in which police report has not been filed yet before the court, in which the committee does not find material against the accused persons for continuing the cases”.
The committee is also empowered to recommend those cases in which the “provisions of plea bargaining in Chapter XXIA of the CrPC, as amended can be restored by the court and the cases disposed off by plea bargaining”.
The first meeting of this committee, before the terms of reference were agreed upon, was held on May 13 this year. It was announced after the Congress government was voted to power in Chhattisgarh in a landslide victory last December.