Suggestions and Thoughts for The Justice Verma Committee

Honorable Justice Verma,

The recent events around the widely reported Delhi Gangrape incident have brought to the fore not just the sentiments of an infuriated nations, but also several glaring shortcomings in the way our law and order infrastructure is setup and operating. Amongst the precious few steps taken by the elected government, one was to set up this committee under your guidance and invite recommendations and suggestions from citizens of the civil society towards the amendment of laws. I welcome this meaningful gesture, somewhat late and inadequate as they may be.

While the public notice invited only recommendations around the laws, I have included two sections in this document – the first section includes my recommendations w.r.t. to the laws the way I understand them, and the second section covers certain other recommendations  that I feel would be crucial to avoiding such incidents in the future.

Section 1

  • Need for Special Courts
    • Separate courts for crime against women need to be setup. Again, the classification on whether a particular case needs a fast track action should be driven by the category of the case and not by the gender of the defendant. However, in the case of women, we as a nation need to recognize that the odds are heavily stacked against them – right from their ability to report an incident to their ability to fight for their rights. The number of times they are abused, violated, beaten up, burnt, killed etc and no action is taken is not insignificant.
    • Fast Track Courts for Special Cases-
      • We need to put a definition, and a set of metrics around what we mean by fast track courts. I believe that a fast track court should be defined by cases that should be resolved in less than a month.
      • Independent benchmarking – We need to have real and acceptable benchmarks for measuring the efficiency of these fast track courts. For instance, a one month turnaround on cases of rape and violence is a reasonable fast track performance. The identity of the rapists, the physical and medical examination that allows sufficient evidence to be furnished, the forensic evidence collection, etc. can be easily done in this window. The tracking down of the culprits and booking them could take time. However, an active and intent police machinery will be able to track down the culprits, is my belief. Furthermore, the evaluation metrics for fast track courts should be closely integrated with the evaluation metrics for the entire law and order machinery linked to that case. This would include police and the investigating agencies as well.
    • Escalation Courts: There should be a court where complaints against the government officials handling a particular case can be registered. This could take some cues from the consumer protection forums where cases have been addressed purely on the basis of a letter on a post-card as well. Intent counts. People should be able to write in with the specific date/time/scenario where a government official/ police person, etc. harassed them or did not fulfill his duty in the most professional manner.
  • Stronger and Relevant Punishments – I do not believe that a death penalty always serves the best. However, criminals involved in cases that lead to the death of a defendant or such bodily harm that the defendant is not able to continue with a normal life (like the case being discussed right now), are worthy of no lesser punishment.
    • It is important that the judiciary revisits the several varieties of punishments that are currently codified in the books of law, and ensure that they are harsh and compensatory enough to act as a deterrent. For instance, while a penalty of 1000 rupees for talking on your mobile while driving acts as a deterrent for individuals, the confiscation of the mobile phone may act as a stronger deterrent.
    • In this case, maybe, financial punishments to the tune of 30-40% of a criminal’s existing wealth/possessions/bank balance, etc in addition to 30-40 years of imprisonment with labor (and with no possibility of sentence reduction) might be a form of punishment worth considering.  Chemical castration in case of rape, death in the case of murder, etc. might be punishments that can be evaluated by the judiciary. However, the underlying theme should not be that of revenge (a form that general public opinion might take) but that of a deterrent  for future cases.
    • Enlist experts’ support – I am not so well versed on criminal psychology or criminal law as to be able to suggest the best punishments for corrective action/ future deterrents, but I believe there is a need to enlist a body of experts in such areas. These experts need to come from four different areas – government, judiciary, academia and citizen groups. The debate and the outcome of the same should be available to public.
  • Handling of Traffic Offenses – Impound vehicles, licenses with multiple reports. The frequency and magnitude can be discussed, but the frequency cannot be more than once a month and the overall magnitude cannot be more than 5 mistakes over the lifetime. An impounded license holder or vehicle should not be allowed to operate for an year, at least. A failure to observe so can be immediately considered for imprisonment.
  • Laws about Juvenile Criminals – I think there is a need differentiate between adult franchise and juvenile crimes. A little boy stealing from a store can be called a juvenile crime, but a young lad of 16 years age raping and brutalizing a woman cannot be called a juvenile crime. I believe that when it comes to violence against women (sexual, physical, mental), children (less than 13 years of age), old people (retirees), etc. we should have a strictly low tolerance policy. I believe young ones in the age group of 14-18 need to be treated differently, and for certain case categories, treated with almost the same standards as are used for adults. A 16 year old is sensitive and aware enough to understand men/women differentiation, law and order (through the study of civics as a subject since the age of 10, I think), and societal values. There is no element of accidental mistake in the case under public attention. Moreover, the law should create a provision for special consideration of cases such as these so that the non-adult criminal is not let off without adequate punishment
  • Judiciary should open itself to criticism.
    • On cases that are pending across the nation, can the judiciary, for once, commit to clearing the entire backlog of pending criminal cases over the next 12 months? And hold those accountable who are holding back the process?
    • The judiciary needs to assess its workload. Simple enough cases take years to get decided on. As a civilian I have heard lawyers talk about how extending a case forever ensures more money to them. I have heard stories about underhanded transactions to expedite the course of action. If it is possible, it should be established a process. And these need to be aggressive goals, not passive goals.
    • Work with the bar council and other relevant bodies to act against the lawyers that impede the process of justice.
  • Bring about transparency in judicial processes.
    • The complainant should have complete transparency into the action taken on their complaints, right from the assigned police person, to the different evidences, confessions, interrogations, etc. While certain aspects need to be reviewed critically, I believe that greater transparency will ensure ore action.
    • The mugshots of all apprehended criminals and their details should be available for public with their identities on a central website. Anyone who’s been booked under such offenses should be shamed publicly.
    • Expected Turnaround Time by Case Types
      • Depending on the case type, TATs need to be defined upfront. These expected TATs should be clearly defined. A murder case that takes three years to solve, most likely, has lost most of the core evidence already,
      • The ETAs for the police and the investigation agencies should be clearly mentioned and reported to the public.
      • Under RTI, any reason for delay should be available for further explanation.

Section 2: Other Thoughts and Recommendations.

  • Enable better and easier reporting of crime
    • Every police station should have women officials for responding to complaints from women, registering the FIRs, etc.
    • Setup hotlines for specific complaint categories with dedicated mobile units at the back-end to reach the scene of the crime as quickly as possible.
    • Take the FIR registration system online where an individual can request to register an FIR and provide supporting evidence if any online. Why should the system expect a victim who has been harassed and abused and violated to reach a police station, get harassed again by the policemen and still not be able to report their case.
    • The verification layers should be built in the form of approved identity papers (such as Aadhaar, Passport, etc.) and a mobile number based verification of complaint so that the system is not abused by stray criminals as well.
    • Simplify the process of registering an FIR. We can take cues from the consumer protection forum, which has occasionally taken actions on letters on a post-card even.
  • Financial Support –
    • In such cases of brutal violence against individuals, the state should fund the medical and rehabilitation expenses for the individual. At the highest quality institutes of healthcare. Without requiring media intervention.
    • These numbers should be readily reported to the individuals and a centralized repository where RTI activists, NGOs, etc have access to the information (without requiring a 4 week lag).
  • Policing the police
    • Police stations should be monitored through video surveillance as well. The video records should be made available for any case where the role of the police is suspect.
    • A clearer explanation as to why it took three weeks for the police to file a chargesheet in this case. I believe that this process should be brought down to 24 hours.
    • I believe that amendments to a chargesheet are an allowed process, and hence the murder case could have been brought at a separate point. But the first chargesheet should have been filed much earlier.
  • Independent Reporting and Benchmarking
    • Independent group of bodies for benchmarking the performance of different police stations should be setup.
    • It should include the number of walk-ins to the FIR desk, the number of FIRs registered, the number of cases open vs. closed, the distribution of cases by number of days they’ve been open, or have taken to close, the number of cases that are discarded, the number of cases that were closed due to the lack of evidence, etc. Break them by categories.
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs should step in to evaluate these reports which are published in major dailies across the country for public consumption as well as localdata being published in the city editions of top 10 largest circulating dailies on specific dates in a quarter (to start with).
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs should respond within a week to report on the identified weakness in the system, and the recommended follow-up.
  • Technology enablement
    • Deployment of video surveillance cameras with capability to take high speed photographs of the license plates, process it, and issue challans or raise SOS flags – especially in the more sensitive areas.
    • Centralization of criminal/crime database. While law and order is a state government subject, there are elements that need to be centralized for the better safety of the citizens, and for providing an air of comfort and well being in our country.
    • Put data warehousing, analytics, and reporting systems in place that are capable of aggregating information, analyzing it, and in many cases be able to identify the hotspots of criminal activities, the time of the day when such activities peak, and so on. It is a long process which will become better with time and more information being fed to the system, but we need a starting point.
    • All PCRs, traffic vans, etc. need to be centrally integrated so that the criminal databases are available to all at the scene of investigation itself. One should not be allowed to roam freely in Haryana if they have a murder case pending against them in Gujarat, for instance.
    • Move away from paper-pen challans to electronic challans. This will also ensure better tracking of incidents, culprits over a period of time.
    • We need better integration between telecom providers and police so that an SOS signal/call coming to a hotline number can be immediately tracked to a location for rapid action. We  cannot expect a dying person to always call and report their exact whereabouts and what condition they are in. Strong SOS trackers are a good investment. We need these SOS mechanisms to be advertised heavily through all channels of communication.
  • Police force strength/ staffing –
  • Assessment of staffing levels of police in different coverage areas. Furthermore, compare it to the crime rate (reported) in that area. Build a classification system that identifies the area as safe to high risk. Accordingly, adjust police personnel deployment at the field leave. Increase beat durations, frequency, and number of personnel as required. Let there be no other city to get the dubious distinction of being the rape capital. Let there be no area in the city where the civilians are scared of walking around. It is my country and it is my right to walk around in the city even late in the night without fearing for my life.
  • Geographic areas need to be clearly demarcated for police action. One of the case facts has been the debate between various police stations’ PCR vans about whose jurisdiction area the incident comes under. We lost precious few hours that could have saved the victim.
  • Availability of backup medical and support units if needed. Mobile security units with superceding authority to take action in any area beyond their immediate jurisdiction for swift action.
  • Upgrade the police force – in their ability to use technology, move rapidly, create enablers at short notice to deal with a crime scene. I think that the bus and the criminals in this case could have been tracked and apprehended within the first hour of the incident

The timelines for such initiatives cannot be several years. The technology for several of the above recommendations is already in place globally, and we need to work with international agencies, maybe, to get these deployed in the swiftest possible manner.

Advertisements

About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

One Response to Suggestions and Thoughts for The Justice Verma Committee

  1. c.jayapal reddy says:

    keep constable or its equally responsible person/ in every one kilometre radious through out india. police dept. have shortage of police force , so make use of retired police officers to assist police. and society to control various kind of crimes not only rapes, theft, robbery, chain snatching burglary, and various other crimes. keep c.c. tv cameras , in every half kilometre every city, district, taluq and village and all the public places and other necessary places, and to see it is in working condition .

Share your thoughts with me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: