Andhra Pradesh’s Disha Act: Possible lessons for Bangladesh

Ativists take part in a candle light protest over the Hyderabad rape and murder case in New Delhi (PTI)

Disha is the name given to a veterinarian who was raped and murdered in Hyderabad on November 27. She was allegedly abducted by four men who offered to help her fix her bike’s flat tyre. The body of the woman was found burnt around 30 km away at an underpass near Shadnagar on the NH-44. Inquiries revealed that the four planned the abduction by puncturing her bike’s tyre. The four accused were arrested and subsequently they were killed in a so-called ‘encounter’ by the police. For convincing public reaction, Andhra Pradesh (AP) became the first State of India to enact a law aimed at awarding capital punishment to the guilty in specified offences against women and to expedite trial in such cases within 21 days of committing the crime.

The Legislative Assembly of the State of AP unanimously passed two Bills,  namely AP Special Courts for Specified Offences against Women and Children Act 2019 and AP Disha Act - Criminal Law (AP Amendment) Act 2019,  on December 13 to constitute exclusive special courts in every district for speedy trial of specified offences against women and children and for amending sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, adding new sections and awarding capital punishment to those convicted of rape. This Act is like that of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 of Bangladesh (hereinafter as the Act of 2000). Bangladesh ensures stringent punishment for offences against women in some aggravated forms in that Act.

The Disha Act envisages the completion of investigation in seven days and trial in 14 working days, where there is adequate conclusive evidence, and reducing the total judgment time to 21 days from the existing four months. The AP Disha Act also prescribes life imprisonment for other sexual offences against children and includes Section 354 F and 354 G in IPC. In cases of harassment of women through social or digital media, the Act states two years imprisonment for the first conviction and four years for second and subsequent convictions. For this, a new Section 354E will be added in IPC, 1860.

The government of India has launched a National Registry of Sexual offenders but the database is not digitized and is not accessible to the public. But in the Andhra Pradesh Disha Act, 2019, the AP government will establish, operate and maintain a register in electronic form, to be called the ‘Women & Children Offenders Registry’. This registry will be made public and will be available to law enforcement agencies. Special police teams at district level would be constituted headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police.

The main features of Andhra Pradesh Disha Act and Andhra Pradesh Special Courts for Specified Offences against Women and Children's Act, 2019 are: Setting up of exclusive special sessions courts in every district to expedite trial in cases dealing with specified offences against women and children including rape, acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, social media harassment of women, sexual harassment and all cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. The Act has also provisions to amend, sections 376, 376D and 376DA of IPC, dealing with punishments in cases relating to rape and murder of a woman, awarding capital punishment to those convicted in such offences.

The state government has introduced the ‘Andhra Pradesh Special Courts for Specified Offences against Women & Children Act, 2019′. The State Government shall nominate a Sessions or Additional Sessions Judge and also appoint a special public prosecutor, preferably a woman public prosecutor, to conduct cases. The government will constitute special police teams at the district level to be called District Special Police Team to be headed by DSP for investigation of offences related to women and children. The government will also appoint a special public prosecutor for each exclusive special court.

The Act makes it mandatory to complete investigation and file a charge sheet within seven working days from the date of filing the FIR. The Act has also amended section 309 of Indian Cr.P.C to ensure that trial in such cases would be completed within 14 working days from the date of filing the charge sheet. The section 374 of Cr.P.C of India has also been amended the period for disposal of appeals against sentences passed under sections 376, 376A, 376B, 376AB, 376D, 376 DA, 376 DB, 376E of IPC from the existing six months to three months. The State of AP has recently Ordered for 36 special fast track courts in all districts with 13 new public prosecutors, a DSP, SI, and four support staff for all 18 women police stations, and two new forensic labs for the necessary infrastructure under the new Disha Act.

The Disha Act and Special Court for this law is some extend different from the Act 2000 of Bangladesh. In the Disha Act, it ensures a speedy investigation and trial through a special investigation police unit and courts. Moreover it stipulates about the provision on Public Prosecutor (PP) and gives option to appoint women as PP for that court. The law and court is only for Rape, Rape with murder and sexual offences against women and children. The Disha Act makes a sound environment for women to get justice as speedily as fast-track trial.

In Bangladesh, in the Act of 2000 there is time-frame of trial for 180 days and there is no guideline about the result if the Tribunal can’t complete the trial within 180 days. For the vast jurisdiction specially dowry cases, there are huge cases in the Nari-O- Shishu Nirjaton Damon Tribunal (hereinafter referred as Tribunal) in Bangladesh and most of the cases can’t be tried within the stipulated time in accordance with the Act. It will be suffixed that we have neither special investigation agency for sexual offences nor we have skilled prosecution and sufficient tribunals for disposal of cases within shortest possible time.

Recently Bangladesh has set a blazing example on the Nusrat Jahan Rafi case and the tribunal consecutively conducted the case taking 87 witnesses and all formalities within 61 days. We have also some pungent experiences such as BDR munity case, Seven murder case of Narayanganj, Rupa gang rape case, Khadija’s attempt to murder case, Rajon murder case, Rakib murder case, Holy Artisan case, Banani Road Accident case, MP Liton Murder case and so on. Bangladesh Judiciary has aptly proved that the court can ensure ends of justice and fast-track trial when other agencies properly do their duty and aid the court to expedite the cases.

Of late the High Court Division (HCD) of Bangladesh has intervened in some cases and provided guidelines to produce witness, set up monitoring committee and conclude trial to the framework stipulated time of concern law. The HCD also expressed to enact the witness protection law and witness management provision in the court.

Our prosecution service, that represents the state in the criminal cases is not properly accountable to the authority. Most of the cruel murders and heinous crimes got clemency for the defect of evidence and witnesses in the courts. Even most of the old cases are pending for the production of witnesses in the courts which is exclusively the responsibility of the prosecution and police. For fair trial, a good investigation is a prime concern.

In Bangladesh, there is no law for the protection of witness and no stringent detail law for the management of witness. In the Evidence Act 1872 which is core law for evaluation of evidence, there is no clear provision to accept digital, audio and visual evidence. To ensure proper justice in specially sexual offences, we can follow the Disha Act 2019 of India to introduce special investigation agency and set up sufficient courts reducing time of trial. In the same way, Bangladesh can introduce an offender registry system on sexual offences.

To establish rule of law and remove culture of impunity, a fast-track trial and fair justice system are integral part of justice towards people. For such effective action, the Government should set up new courts and tribunals as per the ratio of the cases. Now the people want speedy and effective trial to ensure justice. Moreover professional and skilled investigating agency, accountable prosecution, witness management and protection, monitoring of the cases are also vital and core parts of the speedy trial.

The writer is a member of Bangladesh Judiciary & Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni.

  • Andhra Pradesh’s Disha Act: Possible lessons for Bangladesh
  • Md. Zakir Hossain
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 26
  • DhakaCourier

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