In case the crime is committed outside the jurisdiction of a police station, the victim can file a “Zero FIR”
Doing away with the tardy probe, delayed challans & forensic reports that eventually marred the fast trials of rape cases, Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an advisory to the States and Union Territories for ensuring mandatory action by police in cases of crime against women and to complete the investigation within two months.
As per the order of the Union government, all the states are required to register an FIR, collection of evidence for forensic examination and use of Sexual Assault Evidence Collection (SAEC) kit, completion of investigation in sexual assault cases in two months, use of National Database on Sexual Offenders for identifying and tracking repeat sexual offenders etc.
The ministry has directed all states and union territories to strictly enforce laws and guidelines relating to sexual assault on women and take stringent action against officers responsible for lapses.
“Any lapses, if noticed, need to be investigated and stringent action taken immediately against the concerned officers responsible for the same,” the MHA statement said, adding that in case the crime is committed outside the jurisdiction of a police station, the victim can file a “Zero FIR”.
A senior police officer, wishing anonymity, claimed that this is a historic decision by the government, because in most of the cases, the police take unnecessary time to finish the investigation, which to some extent affects the significance of the matter.
“Having the police efficiently deal with the huge number of cases pending investigation, it would go a long way in reducing the accumulation of criminal cases,” said a police officer, adding that traditionally, the solution for expediting police investigations has been to blindly fill vacancies to meet the sanctioned police strength. However, this approach misses the point since the sanctioned number itself may be inadequate.
He informed that the system is designed with the anticipation that personnel are ‘on duty’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week – this is clearly irrational. This irrational demand means they are overworked and, therefore, ineffective. “A 2014 study by the government-run Bureau of Police Research and Development recommended eight-hour shifts, i.e., 16 hours less than current expectations,” the officer said and added that the study also found that 90 per cent of police station staff works for more than eight hours a day.
He further shared that according to a 2012 report by the Law Commission of India, one of the main reasons for police pendency is the poor quality of investigation. “Police are expected to perform countless functions such as investigation, crime prevention, maintenance of law and order, enforcement of acts, emergency and election-related duties,” senior police officer informed and added that in Prakash Singh vs Union of India, the Supreme Court recommended the separation of law and order from investigative duties.
He, however, said that to his knowledge the same recommendations of the Supreme Court have not been implemented, which is impacting the effectiveness of investigation proceedings.
Meanwhile, a young Kashmir Police Services (KPS) officer observed “Based on our fieldwork and surveys, we found that improving investigative training is not only required, but even desired by newly recruited police officers. Police personnel feel that there is not enough emphasis on the practical aspects of police work during training. Fixing this could help the quality of investigations”.
He added that the most shocking aspect of the investigation into rape case is that investigative officers sometimes (for the sake of money) try to cut a compromise between the parties, despite the fact that Supreme Court has made it clear that rape cases cannot be compromised between the parties since the offence is a crime against the society.
“Another shocking aspect of the investigation that I have witnessed into the rape cases is that the police files cancellation report on the basis of compromise between the parties in the cases,” officer said and added that this is probably done for the money and is prevalent across the country.
The latest directions to the states and union territories to strictly enforce laws and guidelines relating to sexual assault on women and take stringent action against officers responsible for lapses would usher accountability and disposal of cases in time bound manner. The government’s order comes at a time when the Uttar Pradesh government is facing criticism from opposition parties and activists for its alleged shoddy investigation into the alleged gang-rape and death of a 19-year-old girl in Hathras.