Of 18 lakh criminal cases pending in Maharashtra, 25% are from Mumbai
Maharashtra’s dismal conviction rate, which stood at a mere 15 per cent last year, and the fact that there are more than 18 lakh criminal cases pending in the 1,291 district and lower courts across the state seem to have finally jolted the state home department into action. Nearly 25 per cent, or about 4.5 lakh, of these cases are from Mumbai and the suburbs.
Pic for representation
On May 12, the state issued a government resolution (GR) directing that the cases that are unlikely to stand in the courts because of various reasons, like faulty chargesheets and the lack of evidence and documents, be withdrawn. The GR states that only the cases which can yield convictions will be tried so that the conviction rate gets a significant boost and the people involved do not have to suffer unnecessarily due to the pendency of cases.
High-powered committees have been formed at the district levels to review the cases that could be withdrawn. Similar committees at the tehsil level will assist district panels in screening the pending cases. The principal district and sessions judge will head the district panel, which will comprise the district collector, superintendent of police/commissioner of police, assistant director of prosecution/ public prosecutor and government pleader (as a member secretary).
Need for order: The move is aimed at ensuring that the conviction rate gets a significant boost and the people involved do not have to suffer unnecessarily due to the pendency of cases
Similar committees will work at the tehsil headquarters under the senior-most judicial magistrate. The panels have been given terms of references (see box), based on which they can review cases and recommend them for withdrawal to the home department, which will then seek the law and judiciary department’s advice for the final action (of withdrawal) under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) sections 258 (power to stop proceedings in certain cases), 321 (withdrawal from prosecution) and 173(8) (Stalling further investigation).
A senior home department official told mid-day that the people involved suffer unnecessarily in view of pending cases and the state’s conviction rate also takes a hit because of pendency. According to him, about one-fourth of the 18 lakh pending cases are from Mumbai and its suburbs.
“There are several reasons for the growing number of cases being filed in the courts. Our analysis has showed that the investigation officers file chargesheets fearing a backlash from the stakeholders in the case or the public if they fail to do so, even though they do not have enough evidence to prove the guilt of the accused,” he said, requesting anonymity.
The official added that the pending cases also need to be reviewed because the Supreme Court and High Court have issued directives time and again about what constitutes valid evidence.
Senior Advocate Shrihari Aney told mid-day that any new idea (for clearing pendency) was a good thing, but feared that the utility of the panels would be limited. “Cognisable matters (offences) cannot be whisked away like that. The only way to deal with cognisable matters would be to amend relevant laws or make a special law.”
Aney said that the review should not be rendered useless or appear superficial. “I remember a High Court judge telling a government pleader that the pendency of cases was the court’s problem. I wish this doesn’t turn out to be superficial because the government will be dealing with the same setup it has been dealing with all along — the courts, lawyers and other machinery.”
Advocate Aseem Sarode doubted whether the panels would work in an efficient manner. “The judicial, administrative and police officials are already burdened with existing work. The new assignment will increase their workload further and, hence, the government should have independent experts on the panels,” he said. Sarode said that the panels (in case they don’t have independent experts) should ensure that influential people don’t benefit.
“They should work with a sense of responsibility and rationality. I expect fairness from them as it involves discretionary powers, which are usually questioned by the people,” he said. Former IPS officer Y C Pawar welcomed the review of pending cases. “I have been demanding a similar thing for many years now. Our judiciary is overburdened because of the cases that can be withdrawn easily. The panels have a right mix of people,” he said, adding that there was no need of independent experts on such panels.
15% Maharashtra’s conviction rate last year
1,291 The number of district and lower courts across the state
4.5 lakh Approximate number of pending criminal cases in Mumbai and its suburbs
Terms of reference for the district and tehsil panels include the following cases
>> Those in which trial can be stopped under the CrPC section 258 without any verdict
>> Cases in which evidence is not available or the evidence produced does not fit the norms issued by the Supreme and High courts
>> Those in which investigations are weak and there are no documents to present before the court
>> Cases in which the guilt can be proved (accused can be convicted)
Performance will count
>> According to the GR, henceforth, public prosecutors (including special prosecutors) who do not deliver results will not be hired by the state or will not be promoted. The lawyers who are in the government’s permanent service will get elevated based on their performance in terms of the convictions they win for the government. Recruits who come through the state public service commission will have to achieve a conviction rate of 25% for getting promotions. Those appointed on a contract basis (usually for a two-year term) will not get their tenure extended if they don’t win 25% cases in which they represent the government.
>> Senior police officers will now be authorised to appoint private law practitioners to represent the state in sensitive criminal cases. Earlier, the process of such appointment was time consuming, as it required the permission of the state government. A fresh directive empowers Police Commissioners, Special Inspector Generals and Superintendents of Police to appoint special prosecutors without wasting much time. While doing so, the police officers concerned will have to ensure that the prosecutor yields results (conviction). These lawyers will be paid as per the government rates.
1973: The year the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was enacted. It came into force in April the next year