Govt admits SC, ST conviction rate in Gujarat is very low, 'decides' to hire low paid lawyers to overcome lag

By Rajiv Shah
In a major admission, the Gujarat government has said that government pleaders are so preoccupied with their jobs that they are “unable to address” and give “enough time” to fight cases related with Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. A government resolution (GR) issued by the state’s social justice and empowerment department with the specific intention of raising the conviction rate of atrocities cases has said that in the recent past the state government has witnessed a sharp fall in the ability to take up atrocity cases.
“Compared to many other states, the number of cases in which there is a failure to arrive at any conclusion in atrocity cases has gone up in Gujarat”, the GR admits, adding, the rate of success in the atrocities cases in the state is actually “negligible”. “In order to increase the success rate of conviction in atrocities cases and ensure their effectiveness, the Gujarat government has decided to provide certain concessions in the present rules by allowing private lawyers to be hired to fight atrocity cases”, the GR says. Till now, only government pleaders were allowed to fight atrocity cases.
And how does the Gujarat government want to increase the conviction rate? By allowing the complainants, belonging to SC or ST section, to “hire” a “private lawyer” or her or his liking, says the GR. And how much would the state government pay to such a “private lawyer” for this? The GR fixes the following maximum amount: Rs 50,000 in the case of murder and Rs 25,000 in the case of rape or any other major criminal case. The complainant, the GR says, can “take advantage of having a private lawyer through the backward class welfare official in each district.” It adds, the state government has set aside Rs 3.35 crore in the financial year 2013-14 for this.
The GR further says, under the scheme, the amount that the government would pay would have to follow the following criterion: “The private lawyer’s fee or government offer, whichever is lower”. It does not, however, say what the complainant should do in case the lawyer’s fee is higher than the maximum amount fixed! Then, 50 per cent of the amount would be paid to the private lawyer before the start of the case, while the rest of the 50 per cent would be paid after the end of the case. Further, “Only those private lawyers would be allowed to fight cases, who have at least 10 years the experience of taking up criminal cases”, the GR points out.
The GR says, “Priority would be given to scheduled tribe or caste private lawyers, though much would depend on the choice of the complainant.” At the same time, the GR points out, the cases would have to be taken up taking into account “limited government resources allocated during the current financial year”. It adds, “In future, efforts would be made to allocate a higher fund. In the meanwhile, it would be necessary to confine oneself to allocating the limited resources available for this.” The decision on this was taken, the GR informs, between the last week of April and first week of April.
Criticising the GR, a senior activist, Kantilal Parmar, told, “It is difficult to understand how the state government fixed the amount and under what criterion to pay to a private lawyer. Which private lawyer would agree for such a small amount?” Parmar, who belongs to Ahmedabad-based NGO Navsarjan Trust, said, “This is the surest attempt to shoo away best of the advocates to fight atrocity cases. We all know, how much do they charge. Some of them charge Rs 10,000 as single sitting consultation fees. Which world is the government living in?”
According to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, conviction rate of atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat is one of the lowest in India. ML Punia, chairman of the commission, was quoted as saying in Gandhinagar that Gujarat may be a developed rate, but when it comes to conviction of those who have been booked under the atrocities Act, it is just about 3.5 per cent. This, he added, is against a whopping 34 per cent conviction rate in the country as a whole.