Jharkhand: Behind lynching convictions, High Court drive involving police, prosecutors

Source – indianexpress.com

BEHIND the conviction of 11 people over a lynching in Ramgarh, the first such in a cow vigilantism case, and the recent sentencing of 10 to death for a mob killing, is a series of initatives by the Jharkhand High Court and the state government’s Directorate of Prosecution (DoP).

On April 24, a Bokaro district court sentenced 10 people to life imprisonment for lynching Shamsuddin Ansari on suspicion of being a child-lifter. The incident occurred on April 4, 2017, under the Chandrapura police station.

Earlier, on March 16, the Ramgarh court convicted 11 people, including cow vigilantes and a BJP leader, and sentenced them to life for lynching Alimuddin Ansari over suspected beef, on June 29, 2017. The incident had happened on the same day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi decried violence in the name of cow protection.

The two cases were part of those selected across the state for speedy trial, starting October 1, 2017. While the Ramgarh case was not in the original list of 501 cases, it was also tried in a fast-track court following a request by the state government.

The state prosecutors have been able to clock a conviction rate of around 68 per cent, comparable to that of the CBI, in these 501 cases. At least two-third of the cases have been disposed of, while the remaining are expected to be cleared by next month. Overall, in the past year, the state’s conviction rate has gone up from about 13 per cent to 22 per cent.

Jharkhand has also overshot the target it had set for disposal of cases more than five years old.

Jharkhand High Court officials say that identifying cases for speedy trial was part of five targets set by them last year. These included: disposing of 35,000 cases, out of 76,071 pending for more than five years, by March 31, 2018; disposing of 19,891 cases by December 31, 2017; disposal of 501 cases selected for speedy trial; disposal of 2,477 cases pending with the Juvenile Justice Boards (target set on March 14 this year); and disposal of nearly 1,000 pending cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (for which four special courts at Dhanbad, Deoghar, Ranchi and Hazaribagh have been set up).

Acting Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court D N Patel would get an update on these targets twice every day from every district and official concerned, said sources.

The 501 cases cleared for first round of speedy trial were selected by district police, judicial and prosecution officials, with the focus being on cases that were major law and order challenges or in which the victims were women, children or those from marginalised sections, said officials. Starting June this year, 1,000 more cases would be selected for speedy trial.

Said Jharkhand High Court Registrar General Ambuj Nath, “In the 501 cases selected for speedy trial, we have disposed of 319 cases, out of which 213 have resulted in conviction. We are taking up ST/SC Act cases now.”

Officials are also planning to set a time-frame to try cases of witchcraft, for which the state government set up special courts in five districts in 2016.

Principal Secretary (Law) Pravas Kumar Singh said: “The idea was to reduce pendency of cases and show that there was a responsive criminal justice system. The monitoring and supervision was done by the High Court.”

Officials said the plan was put in place following initiatives taken by the Supreme Court to reduce the pendency of cases. Jharkhand High Court officials held meetings with the state government, through the DoP, and judicial, police and prosecuting officials of districts to draw up a road map.

Each principal and district sessions judge was asked to prepare “an action plan for each and every case”, Nath said. A State Court Management Committee, at the level of the High Court, and a district-level committee, apart from senior judicial officers and district SPs, among others, kept track of these cases.

Nath said President Ram Nath Kovind had shown interest in the initiative, and a report had been shared with his office. Besides, he said, the Centre’s Department of Justice has sought details to share with other states.

Nath said they left it to district officials to shortlist the cases for speedy trial. “There was no order from the top. In fact, officials were asked to set realistic targets. However, once selected, the cases were monitored.”

The success in convictions is also being celebrated as the DoP is currently functioning at less than 50 per cent of its sanctioned strength (barely 175 judicial officers out of the 380 sanctioned).

There were other challenges, said the Additional Public Prosecutor in the Bokaro lynching case, Sanjay Kumar Singh. “Every time there would be a hearing, a large number of people would show up from the side of the accused. Also, they were defended by some very well-known lawyers. Further, we were wary of things taking a communal turn. In fact, the families of the victim seldom came to court fearing retribution. Getting the witnesses to testify was another challenge.”

Similarly, in the Ramgarh case, Additional PP Sushil Kumar Shukla said, the court had to issue orders restricting the number of people allowed inside the courtroom. “People would arrive in large numbers from the side of the accused. Some would shout slogans. But we prevailed upon the witnesses… though a few did turn hostile.”

Director, DoP, Digvijay Mani Tripathi, attributed the positive results to constant monitoring and facilitating the processes at the ground level. “It is the same set of police, same quality of investigations, same public prosecutors. But, for the last 15 years (since the DoP was set up), there was nobody to either praise their hard work or point out their flaws. Just the fact that there is somebody who is taking note of one’s work has given us many hardworking and bright prosecutors, who were faceless till now,” he said.

On the lynching cases, Tripathi said, “Getting conviction in them was important. We wanted these cases to become examples.”

He added that they also selected the prosecuting officials carefully, like picking Shukla for the Ramgarh trial, though it was not his regular court, based on his record in dealing with human trafficking cases.

For meeting their target for speedy trial, the DoP on Friday felicitated at least a dozen additional public prosecutors from Ranchi, Khunti and Chaibasa, with Rs 5,000 and a citation.

One of them, requesting anonymity, said the reward lay not in the money. “Many of us work without any office. Also, in many cases, the lawyers representing the accused are either very senior or from HC. Besides, our clients either lose interest or are afraid of coming to court. It is under these circumstances that positive results have emerged,” he said.

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