Following nationwide outrage over the alleged gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras and the government’s lack of a sufficient and quick response to the issue, the Centre has issued a fresh advisory to states and union territories on mandatory action in cases of crimes against women, and said the probe into rape cases must be completed within two months as per law.
It further said the dying declaration of a victim cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a magistrate.
The comprehensive three-page advisory of the Union Home Ministry came days after the alleged gangrape and murder of a woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras sparked nationwide outrage.
The woman was allegedly raped by “upper caste” men in the village and succumbed to severe injuries on her body. The Uttar Pradesh police was then accused of trying to cover up the entire issue because of the caste angle to the issue, particularly after they cremated the woman’s body at 2 am in secret without the family’s consent. The family was locked up in their house when the woman was cremated.
When questioned about this incident, the police cited intelligence inputs of “major law and order problems” to defend themselves in the Supreme Court.
The police also alleged that there was no rape and cite a forensic report – that said it found no semen in the woman’s body – to back their claim. This has, however, been disputed by experts who say the samples were taken 11 days after the attack on the woman.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s administration too has been accused of involvement in covering up the crime, since the state has witnessed a rape spree over the last few weeks, with crimes against women in the state at an all-time high.
The police, meanwhile, have filed 19 FIRs – not against the accused – but against “unknown people” for a “conspiracy to defame the state government”.
What the laws say for crimes against women
The home ministry said there should be compulsory registration of an FIR in case of a cognisable offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and any failure from the side of the police to adhere to laid down rules does not augur well for the delivery of justice.
The law also enables the police to register an FIR or a “Zero FIR”, in case the crime is committed outside the jurisdiction of police station, in the event of receipt of information on commission of a cognisable offence, which includes cases of sexual assault on women, the ministry said.
“However, even with stringent provisions in law and several capacity building measures undertaken, any failure of police to adhere to these mandatory requirements may not augur well for the delivery of criminal justice in the country, especially in the context of women safety,” it said.
“Such lapses, if noticed, need to be investigated into and stringent action taken immediately against the concerned officers responsible for the same,” the advisory to states and Union Territory administrations said.
The home ministry told the states and UT administrations that the Section 173 of CrPC provides for completion of a police investigation in relation to rape in two months.
Meanwhile, Section 164-A of CrPC provides that in a rape or sexual assault investigation, the victim should be examined by a registered medical practitioner under consent within twenty-four hours from the time of receiving the information relating to the commission of such offence.
The advisory said the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 provides that the statement, written or verbal by a person, who is dead, shall be treated as relevant fact in the investigation when the statement is made by a person as to the cause of his (or her) death or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his (or her) death. “Honble Supreme Court in its order dated 7th January 2020… directed that a particular statement, when being offered as dying declaration and satisfies all the requirements of judicial scrutiny, cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a Magistrate or that the police officer did not obtain attestation by any person present at the time of making of the statement,” it said.
It is necessary to use the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection (SAEC) kits in every case of sexual assault reported for which the home ministry has been regularly conducting training and Training of Trainers (TOT) programmes on procedure for collection, preservation and handling of forensic evidence for police and prosecutors and medical officers respectively.
In order to facilitate the state police to monitor compliance, the home ministry said, an online portal called Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO) for monitoring the same has been available exclusively to law enforcement officers.
The states and UTs were advised to use the national database on sexual offenders for identifying and tracking repeat sexual offenders etc.
(With inputs from agencies)