12 Dec, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK
NEW DELHI: When the Prime Minister termed continuing atrocities on Dalits a "national disgrace" at the week-end conclave of chief ministers, he was not way off the mark. Not only are caste-inspired crimes refusing to end, even the redress mechanism is failing to deliver.
Consider this. The conviction rate under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is 15.71% and pendency is as high as 85.37%. This when the Act has strict provisions aimed as a deterrent. By contrast, conviction rate under IPC is over 40%.
The high acquittal rate appears to be a direct fallout of police delay in booking the guilty. A study on POA Act, by S Japhet of National Law School, has laid bare reasons behind the low conviction, while also revealing how ground is prepared for acquittal at the investigation stage itself.
Of the 646 cases studied by the NLS team from POA courts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 578 were disposed of and 68 are pending. Just 27 of the decided cases resulted in conviction; 551 in acquittal. On the whole, 13 acquittals were reported from AP and TN each, and one from Karnataka.
The study notes that while POA cases are disposed of possibly as fast as those under IPC, with an average period of two-and-a-half years, the police all along appeared to facilitate acquittal rather than conviction.
While an average six days were taken to file an FIR, it took as many as 260 days on average to file chargesheets in cases of atrocities against Dalits.
Maximum period for chargesheeting under CrPC is 90 days. The long delay at this stage, the study says, proves crucial in the final adjudication.
Southern states have set up exclusive courts to deal with POA offences besides designating certain courts like district sessions courts as special courts to facilitate Dalit cases.
These exclusive courts have improved the situation to an extent but, on the whole, conviction rates remain abysmally low.
On an average, the study found that arrest of the main accused took 25 days in exclusive courts and 98 days in designated courts. "They are neither given top priority nor are investigations completed within the shortest possible time,"it states.
Also, more than 450 days are taken by the two types of courts to start the hearing after the submission of chargesheet.
The report says, "Huge intervals between various stages of case processing need some serious attention because they are working against the whole idea (of justice to Dalits)."
The nature of offences, too, are an eye-opener. The second most common offence under the POA Act — after atrocities to humiliate — is outraging of modesty of SC/ST women. As the study notes, "It indicates a tendency to use the dominant caste position to sexually exploit Dalit women."