Rise in crimes against women, children in Mumbai in 2019-2020: Praja Foundation report

The number of rape cases in Mumbai went up from 728 in 2015-2016 to 904 in 2019-2020 (a 24% increase), according to the city-based Praja Foundation report released on Thursday, which stated that there has been an increase in crimes against women and children.

A total of 2,145 molestation cases were registered in 2015-2016, as against 2,677 in 2019-2020, an increase of 25%. The report stated that children were victims in 61% of the rape cases in Mumbai in 2019.

According to the report, probes in 67% of the 15,654 crimes against women, and 73% of the 11,268 crimes against children were pending. It also stated that 61% investigations (3,039 cases) under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act were pending.

The report also stated similar pendency across courts in Mumbai — 94% of the 23,791 cases related to crimes against women were pending in courts, while 92% of the 8,126 cases of crime against children were pending in courts. 89% of the 4,250 cases under POCSO Act, too, was pending in courts, stated the report. Also, the report stated that of the 222 cases tried in 2019, only 20% were finished within a year. Section 35 of the POCSO Act states that the court should complete the trial within one year of cognisance of the offence.

“There are multiple reasons for trials to be delayed. Increase in cases and shortage of police personnel are among them,” said Jennifer Spencer, project coordinator at Praja Foundation.

Former chief public prosecutor of Mumbai sessions court, Kalpana Chavan, said that cases gets delayed majorly because courts are overburdened. “There are lots of factors responsible for delay. Sometimes, witnesses are not available or cannot come on a particular date. Or, at times, either the public prosecutor or defence lawyers are not available, or the courts could be busy in some other cases. There is no single factor for delay in conducting trials,” Chavan said.

Similarly, Chavan pointed out multiple factors responsible for low conviction rate. “In a criminal case, the most important thing is preparation of a case and case papers of investigation. The police officer has to make sure that he has prepared all documents as per mandatory provisions. At times, for technical reasons, the accused gets the benefit of doubt,” Chavan said.

The key point is punchnama in criminal trials. According to the Indian law, the investigating officer has to seize a piece of evidence in front of an independent witness that are referred as punchas and a document is prepared under their signature on how a piece of evidence is collected from the scene of offence. If this is faulty, the process of collection of evidence is invalidated, Chavan pointed out.

While talking on crimes against woman, Chavan said, Many of the cases filed are cases of relationship went wrong. “There is a rise in cases wherein a relationship went wrong and women file a complaint of rape out of revenge. These kind of cases result in acquittal as the parties at the end make a settlement out of court,” Chavan said.

Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer and pioneer of the women’s movement in India focused on issues of gender and law reforms, said, “Trial is the last part of the journey which starts after a year or two. And by that time, everything is settled. In most cases, investigation is not done properly, which results in lower conviction rates.”

The victim faces so many problems at the time when a case is registered, and also during the trial. But there is no one to support them, said Agnes.

“There is not support system for the victim after the incident. We need to provide support to the victims, which we do not have. The support system should be improved,” said Flavia.

RC Chavan, former judge, Bombay high court (HC), who joined the judiciary in March 1976 as a civil judge (junior division) and judicial magistrate first class and went on to become a high court judge in 2005, said that faulty investigation is one of the key reason for low conviction rate.

“The police is always under pressure during the investigation. In such circumstances, judiciary has to play an active role. The magistrate has a power to reject the charge sheet filed by the investigating officer. The power is not used much, because of which, the faulty charge sheet is accepted and taken further,” Chavan said.

Chavan said that a judge has to see at the preliminary stage itself if there is evidence enough to prosecute the accused or if something is missing. “Rejection of charge sheet would give an opportunity to the police to strengthen the case. This will help in improving conviction rate,” Chavan added.

On the delay in judicial system, Chavan said, “The major reason is service of summons to the witnesses. The police are overburdened and at times they cannot serve the summons to the witnesses on time, which delays the trial. Most of the court’s time wasted in this and they are just made to wait for either prosecution of defence to come up for hearing. The judiciary is, however, in process of developing a system that can solve the problem in future.”

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