Seven years after the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act came into effect, Mumbai has got four child-friendly courts.
Acting suo motu on a public interest litigation (PIL), a Bombay high court (HC) bench comprising chief justice Naresh H Patil and justice GS Kulkarni, in January 2018, asked the state where it stands on setting up child-friendly courts. Last week, the HC-appointed amicus curiae told the judges that three courts, termed ‘vulnerable witness protection courts’, were functional in a sessions court in Fort and the construction of the fourth court in Dindoshi sessions court has been completed.
Attorney general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the HC the state has allocated Rs 33.30 crore for building vulnerable witness protection courts across Maharashtra.
The work on the Dindoshi court for children began when the hearing was going on. Within a few weeks, a room was constructed adjacent to the courtroom, which would act as a waiting area for witnesses. A wooden box compartment with a glass window, was also placed in the court.
The total cost of the work is Rs 7.46 lakh. Sources, however, said there are “some defects” owing to hurried construction. “We are in the process of reviewing the flaws and will rectify them soon,” said the source.
The redesign of two courts in Fort sessions court cost the state Rs 53.52 lakh.
The state has also allocated funds to build witness protection courts in Girgaum and Borivli metropolitan courts. The Girgaum court would require Rs 56.85 lakh, while the work at Borivli court will cost Rs 5.22 lakh.
Meanwhile, acting on the Supreme Court’s directives to director generals of police of all states in May last year, Maharashtra has set up a special task force (STF). Each STF comprising four personnel will provide assistance in investigations in Pocso cases, protection to witnesses and ensure witnesses turn up in court for testimonies. “We have an STF working under the additional superintendent and deputy commissioners at all district and commissionerate levels. They take updates of Pocso cases regularly and follow-up with investigations while assisting police stations,” said Milind Bharambe, inspector general, law and order.
“Most courts use cupboards to protect the child from the accused. But at times, the child comes out, peeps in and gets frightened,” said professor Dr Asha Bajpai of TISS. “The child has to be prepared for a statement in the court. This is an arduous process, which if carried out properly, ensures conviction,” said Nayreen Daruwalla, director at SNEHA, an NGO working to provide legal assistance to sexual abuse survivors.
Apr 15, 2019 11:22 IST
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