Report No. 142
2.7. Unavailability of relevant statistical data regarding under-trial prisoners.-
Unfortunately, the relevant statistics are not available. The State Governments have to be approached for furnishing the number of under-trial prisoners languishing in jails awaiting trials to commence and the period of which they have been in jails. The State Governments are generally reluctant to collect the information and furnish the same.
The State of Bihar, which was a party before the Supreme Court in Hussainara case, AIR 1979 SC 1377 (1382), para. 8, failed to furnish the information even though specifically directed by the Supreme Court. Eventually, the Supreme Court had to proceed on the basis that the information contained in the affidavits filed by the petitioners and the newspaper reports was correct as the State of Bihar did not refute the same.
The absence of vital statistics has, to some extent, hampered the Commission in processing the matter. Realising that fruitful results are not likely to follow, no attempt has been made to write to the State Governments for information in this regard. The Commission drew upon its own experience and the innumerable representations being made by sociologists and others to pursue consideration of the matter. In one sense, the statistics are not indispensable because the practices and the principles are not, and cannot be, in dispute.
2.8. The High Courts in the country were addressed to furnish relevant statistical data. Information was called for concerning the period for which criminal trials are pending in Sessions Courts and Magistrates Courts and also the number of cases disposed of classified into cases resulting in conviction and cases resulting in acquittal. This information was called for with a view to examine two aspects. Firstly, the length of time for which trials are pending in subordinate courts, and secondly, the percentage of acquittals eventually after the conclusion of the trials.
The High Courts were also requested to state the number of criminal appeals pending, classified yearwise, and also the number of appeals disposed of with results. Some High Courts had complied with the request of the Commission. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra forwarded statements from the District Judges, Metropolitan Magistrates and Chief Judicial Magistrates. Unfortunately, however, the statements forwarded do not cover all the courts in the jurisdiction of the concerned High Courts with the result that consolidation of the particulars was not possible.
It was obviously for these reasons that even the High Courts did not endeavour to consolidate the particulars furnished by the District Courts. The statements as such were forwarded to the Commission. There is very meagre response from the remaining High Courts in the sense that only a handful of statements were for warded from the Sessions Judges, etc. without the slightest possibility to consolidate the information for the entire State.
The Commission noticed some kind of reluctance on the part of the High Courts to engage actively in this matter obviously in view of the workload involved. For obvious reasons, the Commission could not also persuade the High Courts to strictly comply with the requests.
2.9. The information available to the Commission was examined. The State of Andhra Pradesh perhaps was the only exception in regard to criminal appeal pending in the High Court. The Commission noticed that appeals upto and including the year 1988 had been disposed of and High Court is now engaged in the process of disposal of criminal appeals for the year 1989-a very satisfactory state of affairs indeed. The position is not happy in regard to the other High Courts. Pendency of trials in the Sessions Courts as well as the Courts of the Metropolitan Magistrates and Chief Judicial Magistrates is quite alarming.
A close study of the statistical data furnished by the Judges would indicate that criminal trials are pending from the year 1982 onwards. The statistical information furnished regarding the result of trials indicates extraordinary results. The acquittals constitute over 90 per cent. and convictions are a paltry 10 per cent. and less. The information furnished by Judges in some courts revealed that "all" the cases resulted in acquittals. The Judges who personally appeared before the Commission were asked to state exceptional reasons for a high percentage of acquittals.
There was a uniform reply from all the Judges. It is pointed out that during the period the trials remain pending, situations completely change; some witnesses vanish and some witnesses on whose testimony the prosecution sought to rely make total somersaults. The reasons may be two-fold. Firstly, due to passage of time memories fail and the happening of events passes outside the comprehension of the witnesses resulting in serious discrepancies when they go to the witness box during the course of the trial years after the event.
Secondly, the ingenuity of the accused and the lawyers influences the course of trial. The result is the Judges are very often faced with exceedingly unsatisfactory prosecution cases. They are helpless and the cases result in acquittal for want of satisfactory evidence. The Judges stated that if the period of waiting could be reduced, there may be a greater possibility of the evidence forthcoming more effectively. That confronts us again with the same problem of reducing the delays in the courts.
2.10. Some press reports cause distress and dismay. A recent press report1 relates to the story of a criminal case which occupied 33 years. It cost the public exchequer about one crore of rupees though it pertained to defalcation of a sum of Rs. 19000 (Rs. 12000 + Rs. 4000 + Rs. 3000). Another2 pertains to the state of docket in City Civil & Sessions Court, Bombay. In 1988, 124 (One hundred and twenty-four) rape cases were recorded but only 1 (one) was disposed of.
In first half of 1989, 67 cases were recorded but none was disposed of. This information makes one wonder whether culprits would be brought to book for decades, what with appeals and further appeals. And if 90 per cent of cases terminate in acquittals even after decades, is any social purpose served by the present system?
1. See The Hindu, dated 20-12-1990, New Delhi Edition.
2. See The Hindu, dated 20-12-1990, New Delhi Edition.
2.11. It cannot, therefore, be again said that the problem is a grave one and clamours for urgent attention. The concept of plea-bargaining as obtaining in the U.S.A. needs to be examined in the light of this ungainly situation.