Buck up time: The spate of crimes against women and vigilante spurt are a wakeup call for justice system

State governments and respective high courts must come on board the Union law ministry’s plan to set up 1,000 special courts to fast track nearly 1.67 lakh rape cases, of which a whopping 1.6 lakh are of child rape. With law and order a state subject, the onus is on state governments to respond proactively and for Centre to loosen its purse strings to fund such initiatives. The outrage over the Hyderabad gang rape-murder has culminated in a suspicious encounter killing, before the accused rapists could even be proven guilty.

Delayed justice is being touted as the reason for such support. The massive pendency of rape cases in courts is a real problem. However, setting up fast-track courts tackles just one dimension of it. Equally vexing is the low conviction rates in rape cases, which hovers around 32%. In short every arm of the criminal justice delivery system is falling short: police are failing to investigate cases properly; prosecution is unable to win trials; and a shortage of judges results in cases piling up.

The Centre is squarely to blame for the last issue, as an astonishing 38% of sanctioned posts for HC judges – 410 of 1,079 posts – are lying vacant. On Friday, Supreme Court pulled up Centre for sitting on names reiterated by the collegium for appointment as HC judges. The settled position in law is that Centre cannot demur if the collegium reiterates names that government had sent back with objections. The huge vacancies in HCs are nothing short of a travesty of justice. If Indian women are not to continue to fall victim to barbaric predators it is imperative that the various stakeholders – Centre, state governments and judiciary – proceed urgently on a holistic revamp of the justice delivery system.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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