Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My recommendations to Justice Verma regarding changes to criminal law relating to VAW


I am a member of the general public of India who has been deeply disturbed about the recent happenings in Delhi, and am writing to you to put forward suggestions regarding amendments to criminal laws regarding safety of women as requested by your office through newspaper advertisements. As you know, there are a very large number of criminal cases (of which sexual harrassment cases are only a portion) pending at investigation stage or hearing at multiple levels of courts - many of which take several years before a verdict is passed. Investigations are weak, and often many accused walk away free due to lack of evidence even though they were guilty of having commited the crime. I make the following suggestions for your consideration in improving the entire justice delivery system, served through a number of laws and venerable institutions.
  • Speed up the entire justice delivery system: While I am not a legal expert, I understand one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of India - the right to legal recourse in case any of your other fundamental rights are violated (e.g. in this case, right to life) is meaningless if justice takes too long to be served. To protect and resurrect any victim's fundamental right to life with dignity and right to legal recourse, I suggest that the appropriate laws be amended to make legal proceedings timebound (not more than 1 month for completion of investigation and filing of chargesheet, and not more than 5 months after the case comes to court to pass a verdict - so 6 months overall for the first verdict, which can be contested in a higher court by either party) for serious crimes, such as
    • Crimes against women, including sexual harrassment, rape, domestic violence
    • All crimes leading to any person's death
    • All criminal cases against an elected people's representatives (MLA/MP/Minister/CM/PM/Corporator/Panch etc.) or government official (any level) or judge
  • I would say going forward, all cases except the most complex (such as, where evidence is inconclusive,such as the Arushi Talwar murder case or involves sophisticated skills in accounting / technology / forensic science etc. which can cause delays) should have timebound proceedings and assured verdicts in 6 months - this should ideally be extended to cover civil complaints as well.
  •  Improve law enforcement / police reforms: Government should be required by law to have adequate policing staff in line with developed countries. Large developed countries such as US have at least twice the number of police officers in India (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_number_of_police_officers). Not just do we not have enough enforcement staff, they are extremely ill-equipped both in terms of their attitude towards crime / victims, esp. women as well as w.r.t. the methods at their disposal to prevent crime. Following suggestions are made -
    •  A serious overhaul including training on gender sensitivity, mandatory VRS for staff that does not meet minimum physical / IQ / behavioural standards tested through structured assessments is required
    • To make the police force across states more gender-sensitive, it should also be required by law to have at least 25% of all police force to be women - this can start as 50% of all new police force recruits across states to be women which can be stabilized to 25% once we have a critical mass of women in police force
    • Appropriate laws should also be amended to ensure all police enforcement professionals are treated on par with Indian Armed Forces in terms of salaries / living conditions. Since living conditions for police personnel are often not on par with armed forces personnel (who have access to canteens as well as govt. provided accommodation inside Armed Forces stations) of similar ranks, they should be adequately compensated to ensure they & their families can sustain a dignified life without resorting to corruption. Corruption cases against police officers should per pursued in a timebound manner as above
    •  Adequate life, disability and medical insurance should be provided for to ensure they can serve the nation without having to worry about the future of their family in case something happens to them in the line of duty
    • Police personnel should be provided with adequate tools & methods that can be used during crime prevention as well as investigation
      •  CCTV cameras (clicking pictures every 10 seconds - like they do on traffic intersections in some large cities) on all traffic junctions / bus and train stations, hospitals, government & private offices, hotels etc. should be made mandatory across the nation
      • Radios / communication equipment that can be relied upon for emergency response
      • Modern weapons - Automatic pistols / rifles as appropriate to keep up with sophisticated criminals
      • Faster, safer cars / jeeps - when they need to chase a criminal. Buzzers / traffic stop light changers as appropriate to assist field personnel
      • Mandatory shoulder on all roads to allow emergency response / enforcement vehicles to bypass traffic
    •  Since we cannot trust every following government to continue on this pursuit with the same zeal, the onus is on this parliament and this government to enact laws that require subsequent governments to invest on law enforcement and prevention of crime as their #1 priority / duty
    •  Laws should also require police to use all available tools / technologies in investigation and to invest in a national crime / criminals database, sex offenders database etc. accessible to all law enforcement / intelligence officers securely to allow integrated & coordinated approach to investigate crime and catch criminals across the nation.
  • 911 service integrating all types of emergencies: Several large cities today (such as the 108 service in Hyderabad) do have separate emergency dial-in numbers for police, fire, medical emergency etc. However, one national emergency number is required all over the country and the government needs to invest (maybe we need a law to bring about this change as well) in building a nationwide system that is responsive within minutes in case of any distress.
  • Good samaritan law: A law that requires bystanders / co-passengers to react to / report immediately any crime that happens in their view. This is most useful especially for crimes against women
In case any clarifications are required regarding any of the suggestions above, I can be reached at +91 XXX XXX XXXX or via email at vimalpannala@gmail.com
Vimal Pannala