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Centre to push for fast-track courts for rape trials

Centre to push for fast-track courts for rape trials

The Law Ministry said it is ready to bear majority of the financial burden involved in the setup.

New Delhi: In the wake of brutal Delhi gangrape, the Law Ministry is pushing for early setting up of fast-track courts across the country to try such heinous crimes and civil cases having human dimension. The ministry said it is ready to bear majority of the financial burden involved in the setup.

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar has written to the chief ministers, and Chief Justices of all the 21 High Courts to set up such courts, which used to be in existence till 2005 but were wound up because of dispute over cost-sharing between the centre and states. Kumar wants that these courts should try not only the heinous crimes like rapes, murder, dacoity but also civil cases having human angle like matrimonial disputes, custody matters and cases related to aged people.

"We are adopting a multi-pronged strategy in order to ensure that justice is not only delivered expeditiously, but also seen to be delivered and at affordable cost," the Minister said. "We are encouraging the state governments to set up fast-track courts," he said, adding "all Chief Ministers and all Chief Justices have responded positively and favourably and purposive action is underway in all the states in this direction."

Punjab, Delhi, Kerala and Maharashtra have already started setting up fast-track courts, he said. The move comes against the backdrop of gangrape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi on December 16 that shocked the nation and stirred the government.

Till 2005, there were up to 1500 fast-track courts in the country but the system of setting these up was discontinued after states expressed difficulty in bearing the financial load of 50 per cent involved. To overcome this, the Centre has now agreed to share the majority of financial burden, which could be up to 75 per cent and even 90 per cent in the case of North Eastern states.

To help the process of setting up fast-track courts, the Union Cabinet had in December decided to increase the strength of the subordinate judiciary by 10 per cent. It would mean adding 1800 subordinate officers over and above the existing strength throughout the country. "Some of the judicial officers could be devoted to the fast-track mechanism," the Law Minister said.

He said fast-track courts mostly take up cases of heinous crimes like rape, dacoity and murder which are punishable upward of five years. However, he wants these courts to also take up certain civil disputes like aged people fighting for their property, custody battles and divorce matters.

"I am absolutely clear that there is need to ensure that affordable and expeditious justice is delivered to the people, not only in cases involving heinous offences but in other cases that touch the common man in his day to day life," Kumar said.

He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in principle supported the idea of providing the Ministry "large financial resources" under a centrally-sponsored scheme or under an additional central grant over and above the 13th Finance Commission award to develop justice delivery infrastructure. Kumar said during preliminary discussions, the Planning Commission was "supportive" of the idea and the Law Department is the process of formulating concrete proposals in this regard.

"The Centre will be taking the substantive part of the cost at least for a specific time period. Afterwards, as the resources of the states grow, they can take on," the Law Minister said. He said the mechanism is still being worked out and the Centre's share could be 75 per cent or 60 per cent and for the North East, it could be 90 per cent also.

Explaining the reasons for discontinuation of fast-track courts, the minister said as the state governments had to bear the "brunt" in 50-50 per cent basis, "there was always an issue of resources with the state governments." He said the dichotomy is that the funds allotted to the states by the 13th Finance Commission for morning and evening courts is not being utilised fully. The Law Ministry has also asked for flexibility in the use of this money so that a part of it can be used to set up fast-track courts till an alternate financial mechanism is in place.