Monday, August 14, 2006

Can fast track courts curb crime in India's badlands?

Amarnath Tewary:

Over 200 people sent to prison for life, three punished with death by hanging, and over 80 others sent to prison for a decade or more.

This is a sample of punishments that new fast track courts in the northern Indian state of Bihar have meted out in the past three months.

For a state which is embarrassingly described as the "most lawless" place in India, Bihar is trying to stem its burgeoning crime wave with speedy trails.

This is a state where the police records admit to a murder every two hours, a rape every six hours and a bank heist every day.

Then there is kidnapping for ransom, which has been a flourishing business. There have been 30,000 cases of kidnapping since 1992, with cases being reported every six hours.

But now the authorities say they want to make Bihar a safer place to live and work in.

They say quick investigation and speedy trials have been made a priority.

So much so that sometimes a case is finished within 24 hours.

"Since we launched this drive in January, we have had convictions in 620 [criminal] cases," says senior police officer Abhyanand.

This means an average of three convictions a day - unusually high for a state like Bihar.

The cases can involve small crimes, but also serious offences like kidnappings, murders, rapes and robberies.

"In the last three months three people have been given death sentences, 229 people have been sentenced for life, and 83 more have been sent to jail for 10 years or more," says the officer.

The police activism seems to be bearing fruit with many cases ending in convictions in record time.

Last month, a local court in Rohtas district created history of sorts when it concluded the trial in a rape case in just two days and announced a jail term of seven years for the accused.

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