After the uproar over the gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi on December 16, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil has called for stringent steps to ensure that cases of crime against women are fast tracked and handled sensitively.

At a meeting with top police officials on Thursday, Mr. Patil said he had made it clear that there was no need to ask the victims awkward and unnecessary questions. The police must gather enough scientific evidence in rape cases to ensure justice. The State would show zero tolerance to crimes against women.

Later talking to the media at the newly renovated office of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), he said the State government had decided to dedicate 25 of its 100 fast track courts to hearing crimes against women. The Chief Minister had approved this decision. The courts would begin functioning as soon as vacancies were filled up and cases should be wrapped up within one-and-a-half months. There were recommendations to fast track rape cases with daily in camera hearings. This would be enforced.

He admitted that the detection and conviction rate was poor, though Maharashtra reported a 1.5 per cent reduction in crimes against women this year. There was a need to sensitise the police to the laws dealing with crimes against women. Mr. Patil said workshops must be organised to educate the force.

It was not enough to merely detect a crime and submit charge sheet. Investigating officers must follow the case closely in court. There should be a close coordination between government lawyers and the police. Timelines for investigation and filing charge sheets must be strictly adhered to. The government had already written to the Centre demanding that molestation be made a non-bailable and cognizable offence, Mr. Patil said.

Amid allegations that the police sometimes did not register complaints, Mr. Patil said such cases would be treated seriously. Crimes against women should be investigated immediately and efficiently. Senior police officers should actively supervise the investigations. Police must not only prevent crimes against women, but also treat such cases with sensitivity. If necessary women police would probe such cases, he said.

Police should be aware of laws relating to women, Dalits, minors and adivasis, Mr. Patil said. Forensic and scientific facilities would be strengthened and sufficient people deployed.

In response to questions on VIP security and the diversion of police for this purpose, Mr. Patil said security was provided only to those who needed it most. He would review the situation based on the report of a committee that had studied this issue.