This article is written by Priyanka Karwa, pursuing a Certificate Course in Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace from LawSikho.com.
Few days after the rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad, which triggered a national uproar, Andhra Pradesh became the first state to enact a law aimed at granting capital punishment to those convicted of specific crimes against women and to speed up the trial of those cases within 21 days of the crime.
On December 13, 2019, the Disha Act, 2019 (Andhra Pradesh Penal Amendment Act, 2019) was jointly passed by the Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly as a tribute to a veterinary doctor who was brutally raped and murdered in Hyderabad. For offenses such as kidnapping, gang rape, and speeding up prosecutions of such an offense within 21 days, the Act offers the death penalty. The Act visualizes the execution of the inquiry within seven working days and the trial within 14 days from the charge sheet’s filing date, within 21 days to compile adequate proof and pass judgment.
This article highlights the Act’s salient features and what led to its enactment, and the effects of such legislation.
What led to the Disha Act
Disha is actually the name given to a veterinarian who was raped and murdered in Hyderabad on November 27th. She was reportedly kidnapped by four men who were promising to help her repair her bike’s flat tire. The woman’s body was burnt at an underpass near Shadnagar on NH-44, about 30 km away. Inquiries revealed that by puncturing the tire of her vehicle, the four orchestrated the kidnapping.
Amid massive demonstrations across the nation demanding justice for the victim, the four accused were arrested. The Cyberabad police shot all four defendants in an incident on the morning of December 6, alleging they were attempting to assault the police force as they were reconstructing the crime scene.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy delivered an emotional speech on the assembly floor three days after the conference, hailing the government of Telangana and praising Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. At the ongoing session of the Assembly, he also promised to table legislation to ensure stricter punishment and speedier disposal of cases in cases involving crimes against women.
This is what eventually led to Enacting the DISHA Act.
Salient features of the Act
Forming Women and Children Registry
The Government of Andhra Pradesh will create, operate, and maintain a registry in electronic form, to be called the registry of offenders for women and children. It would make the register available and open to law enforcement officials.
Introducing exclusive punishment
For rape cases where there is ample evidence, it has been recommended that there should be a death penalty by amending Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Reducing the judgment period to 21 days
The decision will have to deliver substantial conclusive evidence within 21 days from the crime date in cases of rape. The investigation will be concluded within seven working days, and the trial will be completed within 14 days.
Punishment in case of harassment through social media
In the event of harassment of women via social media, the perpetrator is punishable by imprisonment with a prolonged period of imprisonment from 2 to 4 years.
Establishment of special courts
The formation of special courts in all Andhra Pradesh districts and these courts will deal in particular with crimes against women and children.
Contribution of a special police team to special trials and nomination of a special public prosecutor
For the prosecution of violence against women and children, public prosecutors’ appointment in special courts and a special police force team would be chaired by the DSP.
What is the effect of this Act?
The effect of the Act is as follows:
1) A National Registry of Sexual Offenders has been initiated by the Government of the Union of India, but the data has not yet been computerized and kept confidential. Under this program, a database of such data may be kept online by the state government and use this information for law enforcement agencies’ purposes.
2) Under existing rules, the convicted person shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty in exceptional circumstances. If ample proof remains, Andhra Pradesh’s government has issued a death sentence solely for sex offences. Section-376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, was revised.
3) The judgment period is four months as per the Nirbhaya Act, 2013 and Criminal Amendment Act, 2018; 2 months for investigation and two months for trial. According to the rape victims with substantial conclusive evidence, the cumulative verdict period is 21 days for the Disha Act, 2019, a time limit of 7 working days for inquiry purposes and 14 working days for judicial hearings. To shorten the decision period to 21 days, Section-173 and Section-309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 will be added, and new provisions will be adopted.
4) The accused would be held responsible for imprisonment if there are harassing messages from social media, Facebook, emails, or by some means of digital abuse. However, there is no such clause in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The term of imprisonment can be extended for the first conviction to 2 years and for the second conviction to 4 years.
5) In crimes such as stalking or sexual abuse, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences POCSO Act, 2012, the perpetrator is responsible for incarceration ranging from 3 years to 7 years. For offenses like sexual assault against minors, the new Act imposes life imprisonment. Three sections were included in Section-376E, 376F, 376G of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, under’ sexual abuse on children.
6) To guarantee a speedy trial, special courts deal with cases involving crimes against women. In every district, the Andhra Pradesh government ordered the establishment of special courts. Those crimes are solely against women and children, i.e., kidnapping, gang rape, acid assaults, social media stalking, abuse. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has also set up “Andhra Pradesh Special Courts for Specific Offenses against Women and Children.”
7) Reducing the appeal period to 3 months to dismiss cases of rape against women and children. For the disposal of rape cases, the current appeal duration is six months. It was limited to a period of 3 months. Sections-374 and 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, allow for such amendments.
8) A special police force led by the DSP would be created specifically to investigate crimes against women and children. For each special court, the government will appoint a special public prosecutor.
All these are and might be the effects that the Act has once it is enacted. The primary objective is to ensure justice to women/children who suffer atrocities against them.
There is no way for the overburdened justice system to bear the resulting burden of enacting the new legislation. For starters, 60 lakhs cheque bounce cases are pending, more than three crores cases are pending at the Supreme Court, the sheer volume of trial cases grabs away all the time of the judiciary.
On the other hand, the power of the judiciary is under question due to some fake encounters.. The police take advantage of the power that they are granted. Crime incidents have multiplied under such situations. As a result of this, the police are also overburdened since both the judiciary and the police force will face challenges with the coming of the Disha Act, 2019.
But looking at the bigger picture, it is possible for us to say that it will be a better and quicker justice delivery system.
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