A meagre 27 per cent of people, accused of committing atrocities and crimes against scheduled castes and tribes, have been convicted during 2014-16 due to a variety of reasons like delay in lodging FIRs, prosecution unable to prove charges and witnesses turning hostile.
According to a report compiled by the Union Home Ministry, the rate of conviction is low despite the country having 195 exclusive special courts to deal with the alleged crimes against SCs and STs.
The figures come amid the ongoing row over the alleged dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In 2016, a total of 40,718 cases were registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of which charge sheets were filed in 30,966 cases and the conviction rate was 25.8 per cent, the home ministry says.
As many as 38,510 cases were registered in 2015 under the Act and charge sheets were registered in 26,922 of these cases, the conviction rate being 27.2 per cent.
In 2014, altogether 40,208 cases were registered. Charge sheets were filed in 29,248 of the cases and the conviction was rate was 28.4 per cent.
The data for 2017 is yet to be compiled.
The reasons for low conviction rate are mostly due to delay in lodging the FIR, witnesses and complainants becoming hostile, absence of proper scrutiny of the cases by prosecution before filing the charge sheet in the court, the ministry said.
Lack of proper presentation of a case by the prosecution and appreciation of evidence by the court, prosecution unable to prove the charges, long pendency of the trial makes the witness lose their interest and lack of corroborative evidence are some of the other reasons for the low rate of conviction, it said.
Section 14 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act specifies that for the purpose of providing for speedy trial, the state government shall, with the concurrence of the chief justice of the high court, establish an exclusive special court for one or more districts.
In the districts where less number of cases under this Act is recorded, the state governments shall, with the concurrence of the chief justice of the high court, specify for such districts, the court of session to be a special court to try the offences under the Act.
Accordingly, for ensuring speedy trials of cases under the Act, a total of 195 exclusive special courts have been set up in Andhra Pradesh (14), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (17), Gujarat (16), Karnataka (8), Kerala (3), Madhya Pradesh (43), Maharashtra (3), Odisha (3), Rajasthan (25), Tamil Nadu (6), Telangana (10), Uttar Pradesh (40) and Uttarakhand (2).
The apex court had on March 20 ruled that on “several occasions”, innocent citizens were being termed as accused and public servants deterred from performing their duties, which was never the intention of the legislature while enacting the SC/ST Act.
Several states were rocked by widespread violence and clashes following a Bharat bandh call given by several SC/ST organisations protesting the top court’s order. Eight persons died in the violence.
While hearing the Centre’s review plea to stay the order, the top court had in April asserted that “no provisions of SC/ST Act have been diluted” and clarified that additional safeguards had been put in place “to protect the fundamental rights” of innocents.
Some Dalit groups have called a countrywide agitation on August 9 to protest the changes in the Act.
Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan had written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday opposing the appointment of retired Supreme Court judge A K Goel as National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman, since he was “the judge who ruled against” the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.