Fourteen years after they were first set up, just half the fast-track courts set up across the country are still functional, the Law Ministry says. Only five States — Assam, Goa, Kerala, Meghalaya and Mizoram — still have all their fast-track courts sanctioned in 2000 functional, data show.
Fast-track courts function by the same procedures as other trial and sessions courts, but have better infrastructure and funding. They are expected to dispose of at least 14 sessions cases a month.
They were initially meant to look at long-pending cases and those involving undertrials, but were later directed to try specific cases, such as crimes against women and children.
In response to an un-starred question by BJP MP Nalin Kateel from Karnataka, Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad submitted last week that just 976 of the 1,734 fast-track courts first sanctioned in 2000 were still functional.
While the setting up of courts, including fast-track courts, is the responsibility of the State governments, the 11th Finance Commission recommended a scheme for the establishment of fast-track courts, and sanctioned Rs. 500 crore of Central funds for the purpose.
The initial scheme was to run for five years and by 2005, 1,562 were functioning, the Law Ministry’s data show.
On the Supreme Court’s directions, the Central funding was extended by another five years and discontinued in March 2011.
By then, the number of fast-track courts still functioning was already down to 1,192. After the gang-rape of a young woman in a Delhi bus on December 16, 2012, the Centre decided to extend the scheme partially until March 2015 by providing up to Rs. 80 crore a year as matching grant to meet the salaries of the additional judges. But by July 2014, the number of functional fast-track courts was down to 976.
Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh are the worst performers with none of their sanctioned fast-track courts functional.
Just 61 of Gujarat’s 166 fast-track courts are still working, 39 of Karnataka’s 93, 92 of Maharashtra’s 187 and 85 of West Bengal’s 152.
Fast-track courts disposed of over 3 million cases in their first 11 years. However, the quality of justice delivered by them is disputed, as well as the impact they have on the speed of justice in the rest of the system.
"The very concept of fast-track courts is flawed. Why shouldn't all cases be moving faster? Fast-tracking some cases necessarily means that some cases are being slow-tracked," Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves said. What was needed was for the government to urgently double the number of judges for a start, Mr. Gonsalves said, adding that India needed five times the number of judges it currently has.