Suman K. Shrivastava
Ranchi, May 31: Prisoners of Jharkhand — a majority of them tribals — who are facing charges of waging war against the state may have reason to believe that they are no less equal before the law than the free man.
Jharkhand High Court has constituted a committee headed by Justice D.N. Patel to monitor the trial of persons alleged to be members of banned outfits such as CPI(Maoist) and PLFI and speed up the legal process to deliver justice to them.
It will bring ongoing trial in the lower judiciary in cases slapped under stringent legislation like Prevention of Terrorism Act, Criminal Law Amendment Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Explosives and Arms Act, besides murder and extortion charges, under the high court's scanner.
Chief Justice Prakash Tatia formed the panel on May 18, the day the high court closed on account of summer vacation, swinging into action after a report of then Ranchi judicial commissioner A.V. Singh in January painted a grim picture of trial of prisoners in Khunti sub-divisional jail.
Justice Tatia's action came days before Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to chief minister Arjun Munda saying that many innocent tribal people in Maoist-hit areas were being implicated in false cases and put behind bars.
The high court has also asked the lower courts to send detailed reports on the status of trials in such cases by June 6.
The lower courts have been asked to explain the status on the number of cases pending and disposed of in the last quarter, the number of accused chargesheeted and reasons for delay.
Newly appointed court managers who are MBAs will analyse the data, following which the court will take corrective measures.
Singh, who had undertaken a study in response to a petition filed by prisoners, observed in his report that 546 sessions cases involving serious offences in which jail terms can be more than seven years were pending in Khunti sub-divisional court for years.
Along with district officials, he interviewed around 100 undertrials, whose main demand was speedy trial of their cases and to ensure the presence of witnesses in the court.
Ironically, the number of sessions cases pending for trial was only marginally less than petty offences, which were pegged at 591.
This implied that police were booking most of the arrested persons in the tribal-dominated district, including ordinary men, under provisions meant to bring extremists to justice.
Singh's report also said that summons were not being served as Khunti was in a Naxalite-hit zone.
Khunti has seven police stations while improvised explosive devices are planted across the entire area. As a result, police officers are directed to move in a bunch not less than 20.
"Also, there is paucity of security forces, as only 242 policemen, right from constable to the rank of officer, are posted and most of the time they are engaged in anti-Maoist operations. So, there is difficulty in execution of the summons, warrants and processes of the court leading to delay in the court trial," the report said.
Ninety per cent of the 320 undertrials lodged in Khunti sub-division jail are said to be tribals, the report said.
Justice Patel, who also heads the committee on using IT in judiciary, said the high court's main focus was on monitoring old cases.
"After successfully putting in place the online trial system at Madhupur, we are working on connecting the central jails with various courts," he told The Telegraph.
"The persons facing serious charges are supposed to be lodged in high-security central jails. They can face trial from one jail even if the cases are registered against him in various districts," he pointed out.
Incidentally, the undertrials facing extremism charges in Ghaghidih Central Jail went on hunger strike on May 28 seeking speedy trial of senior rebel leaders languishing in prisons across the state.
Meanwhile, Ramesh had shot off letters Munda as well as the chief ministers of Odisha and Chhattisgarh on May 23 taking up cudgels on behalf of tribals languishing in jails.
The Union minister, who is keen on expediting development initiatives in Saranda after security forces reclaimed the liberated zone, wrote in his letter to Munda that "a large number of tribals are in jail, for no reason whatsoever, and that, in reality, they should be freed at the earliest".
[Courtesy: The Telegraph, June 1, 2012]