With the government announcing a slew of reforms in the state’s prosecution machinery, Maharashtra has become the first state in the country to insulate public prosecutors from political interference.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced on Friday that all public prosecutors would now be brought under the Directorate of Prosecution (DoP), a move aimed at granting autonomy to the prosecution system. At present, public prosecutors are governed by two departments — the DoP and the state’s law and judiciary department, causing lack of uniformity.
A committee headed by former additional chief secretary (Home) Amitabh Rajan had recommended bringing the prosecution machinery under one authority as a reform to improve the conviction rate in the state. Official sources said no other state had so far enacted such a reform. “The move would also increase accountability of the DoP,” a senior official said.
Fadnavis also announced steps to weed out political interference in appointment of public prosecutors. “Powers to appoint a panel of lawyers has been delegated to police commissioner, additional director generals and police superintendents,” Fadnavis told the state Legislative Assembly. “The government has delegated power to appoint special public prosecutors, who would have to be from the panel, to deputy police commissioner and police superintendents. The appointment process of special assistant government pleaders will be modified too,” he said.
Also, all public prosecutors, additional prosecutors and special prosecutors would now be appointed for an initial period of two years. “Those who fail to ensure conviction in 25 per cent cases they argue won’t be retained,” the chief minister said. Assistant prosecutors whose conviction record is below 25 per cent won’t be eligible for promotion. The conviction rate will now be a parameter in the annual confidential reports (ACR) of investigators too.
The state will also evolve a court monitoring system for coordination between the prosecutor, the investigator and witnesses. A scrutiny panel will also vet the investigation before granting approval to file chargesheets.
With witnesses turning hostile seen as another prime reason for low conviction rates, police officers will now also pick a government servant as a panch witness in serious criminal offences punishable for seven years or more of imprisonment.
The recommendation to double the allowance paid to witnesses and to set up a special room for witnesses in courts was also accepted. Fadnavis also announced that video-conferencing facilities would be used for hearings on remand applications for undertrials and persons in judicial custody.
To reward those aiding investigations, the government will confer the ‘Nirbhay’ award to citizens helping in resolving crimes against women, chief minister’s medals for policemen with the best detection rates and for lawyers with the highest conviction rates in sex determination cases. The Nirbhay award will come with a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh and a citation.
In 2012, Maharashtra stood last among states with a 9 per cent conviction rate. While the conviction rate rose to 28 per cent in 2014, Fadnavis said this was “far from satisfactory”.
Meanwhile, the CM also announced a 25 per cent increase in the number of judges in the Bombay High Court to decrease pendency.