About the Author:
Mrs. Sonakshi Pandey is a Junior Legal Officer, Rajasthan Government
The outburst and upsurge of a recherché pestilence caused by the proliferation of the COVID- 19 virus scientifically named as “SARS- COV – 2” has harshly exerted a fatalistic influence on the organized social, economic, political and cultural viability of all the inhabitants living around the world. The life-threatening Coronavirus elementally first and the foremost unfurled from Hubei province of China, Wuhan city, at the end of the year 2019. SARS- COV- 2 is verily a group of viruses that causes severe breathing and pulmonary problems in human beings.
Originally emanated from the Hubei Province of China in late December of 2019, and within a few weeks only of its emergence, it has taken the entire continents under its clasp. The predicament caused by the upsurge in the coronavirus cases all around the world has proved fatal to almost all the possible spheres of people’s lives and the Indian judicial system stands on top of the list amongst sectors that have been highly thwacked by the pandemic situation.
The flaring up of the first and second strains of the coronavirus has been awful and highly obstreperous for the judiciary in India and abroad by intimidating the law and order of the country. The ramifications engendered by the proliferation of coronavirus can be appraised by the undulation of crime rates in India which is getting constantly oscillated in these detestable situations caused by the imposition of lockdown owing to the unfurling of the COVID virus.
II. Crime in National Capital City ‘Delhi’
The explosion of novel coronavirus cases in India necessitates the Indian government to impose a complete lockdown in the country until the end of April. However after the unanticipated enforcement of lockdown, on the one hand, India notably witnessed the precipitous reduction in the rate of crime outside the family with not many people moving out of their households, on the other hand, national also countersigned an instantaneous and substantial multiplication in the incidents related to domestic abuse, intrafamily violence and cybercrimes.
In Delhi and Karnataka, the most perspicacious fall in criminal activities was observed, where the crime rate straightforwardly plummeted down by almost 50% during the first phase of lockdown. National Crime Records Bureau in its report divulged out that owing to the foisting of countrywide lockdown, crimes such as robbery, murder, rapes, theft and kidnapping have been turned down with an appreciable sprint of time although the report also revealed that more or less 3, 00,000 calls related to child abuse were entertained by the Child helpline between March 23 to 31 March 2020, manifesting around 50% increase in the child exploitation incidents in the first 15 days of the earliest phase of lockdown in India.
Around 30% of these calls were especially correlated with the domestic mishandling of young children. Over the past few months, the capital city has noticed a dramatic nosedive in the number of criminal activities. From 3,416 offences in 2019, the capital city of India reported only 1890 total number of offences in 2020. Similarly, incidents related to women’s exploitation and molestation considerably tumbled down from 72 to this year from 144 in 2019.
Moreover, the nation also observed a reduction in the incidents of kidnappings and abductions from 259 to 150, on the same line incidents of thefts plunge from 109 to 53 only in 2020. As per the latest data disseminated by the Delhi Police, the national capital city has witnessed merely 109 burglary cases and 53 snatching cases, however, this counting rose up to 294 in the year 2019.
III. Undulation Of Crimes During Covid 19 Pandemic
Counterfeiting and Fraud
Offences related to counterfeiting, fraud and black hoarding are directly drawing a connection with COVID 19 pandemic. In India, police personnel raided out the numerous premises owned by pharmacists and business persons and expropriated thousands of N95 masks, oxygen cylinders and hand sanitisers.
The incidents related to cybercrimes have been recorded a superabundant proliferation after the announcement of complete lockdown as people around the globe squandering plenty of their time over the cyber world. As per the police department of Maharashtra, the government of Maharashtra has recorded approximately 400 cases directly related to cybercrimes where most of the criminals were indulged in online hate speeches and tried their best to give the pandemic a communal misshape. Apart from these usual crimes, the nation also witnessed a huge escalation in the cases related to banking frauds, fake transactions and forged bookings and sham reports pertaining to free coronavirus testing across the country.
The most pessimistic impact of lockdown across the nation has been noticed in the form of the proliferation of incidents related to domestic violence and family abuse. As per the data released by National Legal Services Authority, the National Commission of Women entertained around 257 calls connected with various forms of crimes against women in the initial days of countrywide lockdown.
Out of these 257 complaints, 69 cases were straightforwardly associated with domestic brutality and ferocity committed on Indian women who were left with no other options but to remain trapped inside the four walls of their houses. According to the figures published by the police department of Delhi, approximately 2500 calls were attended by emergency helpline numbers from women across the nation, out of these 2500 calls, 600 complaints were identified as an assault on women, 23 calls were connected with rape complaints and rest 1612 were pigeonholed under the category of domestic violence against women.
As per the figures divulged out by NALSA, the largest number of incidents related to domestic violence were found to be reported in the state of Uttarakhand (144), further followed by Haryana (79) and Delhi 63.
Criminal activities against women all around the country, have inclined by 21% in 2020 after the enforcement of lockdown and after the adequate interception by police personnel in these cases, domestic violence was found to be transpired in around 700 cases reported on different emergency helpline numbers introduced earlier by various state governments. As per the data of NCRB, criminal activities against women have risen from 4709 in 2019 to 5695 in 2020 and cases of domestic violence have inclined from 3287 to 3993 right after the imposition of lockdown.
As per the data released by the National Crime Record Bureau in the year 2018-2019 approximately 40,810 children were found to suffer the fatalities caused by the different kinds of abuses including mental harassment and sexual exploitation. And in 95% of these reported incidents, victimizers were familiar to the victims. Howbeit after the foisting of lockdown, more or less 3, 00,000 calls related to child abuse were entertained by the Child helpline between March (23 -31) 2020, manifesting around 50% increase in the child exploitation incidents in the first 15 days of the earliest phase of lockdown in India.
Around 30% of these calls were especially correlated with the domestic mishandling of young children and proper intercession was done by child welfare agencies in around 4857 of the reported cases. As per the figures revealed by The ChildLine India, 11% of the reported calls were connected to the physical health of children, 8% of calls were associated with child misemployment and forced misapplication and around 8% of calls were related to misuse and mistreatment of children by their family members and associated relatives.
Since the unfurling of corona cases and foisting of countrywide lockdown from March 2020, around 27 counter-terrorism executions were conducted by Indian Security Forces, in Jammu and Kashmir in which 64 terrorists were encountered. Of all these counter operations, around 18 assassinations were carried on only during the first phase of lockdown. Apart from this, 5 Indian Army Special Forces Para Commanders were also got martyred in the first week of May during these operations. Thus, it would be perfectly suitable to conclude that the rate of crime and pattern of criminal activities in India has unquestionably undulated after the onset of the COVID 19 Pandemic.
IV. Criminal Proceedings and measures adopted by judiciary
To truncate the further spread of the COVID 19 Virus, the central government adduced its powers bestowed on it by Disaster Management Act 2005. By invoking the sections enshrined under the act, the government announced the nationwide complete lockdown which also impacted the judicial proceeding to a greater extent.
On 26th March 2020, Apex court agreeing with countrywide lockdown ordered the several High Courts to entertain only burning or crucial case proceedings and very same instructions were also asked to be carried on by the subordinate courts of India. SC, after giving thoughts to the prevailing situation caused by the sudden outbreak of virus directed that in all urgent and emergency matters hearing will be conducted through virtual mode that is through the mode of video conferencing to curtail the additional retrogression and putrefaction of coronavirus in the human body.
Supreme Court action on undertrials during COVID – 19 pandemic
With the risk of COVID 19 virus spreading amongst the prisoners across the country, in an order passed by the apex court on 23rd March 2020, the States were asked to form a panel including the respective State Legal Services Authority along with the Law Secretary to determine all those under trial prisoners who could be temporarily released to avoid the effect of the pandemic as much as possible. Court also asked the respective state governments to set up various preventive measures in the prisons themselves to avoid the spread of infection among prisoners in India.
National Forum on Prison Reforms vs. Government of NCT of Delhi and others, the case arose out of an SLP filed in the Supreme Court against the order of High Court pronounced on 20.10.2020.
In this case, court stayed the orders passed by the High Court of Delhi which directed the 2,674 under trial prisoners to surrender to their respective prison authorities, who were released earlier by the order of court due to the outbreak of COVID 19 Pandemic. Court after giving a thought to the overcrowding of prisons in the national capital passed the order for the further extension of the bail of the undertrials imprisoned in the prisons of Delhi.
Following the same direction, the apex court in Re contagion of corona virus in children Protection home, Court pulled the strings of central government by guiding it concerning the suitable medical ministrations of patients and children placed under protection homes.
The calamities and catastrophes witnessed by India in the past years have been entirely different in comparison to the pandemic precipitated by the flaring up of contagious novel Coronavirus. And as the name suggests, the Indian government also requires embracing some novel measures to withstand this deadly pandemic in the near future and for attaining this objective, a new health policy is desired to be framed by the legislature as soon as the ramifications are caused by the virus get over.
Extension of limitation period
The apex court of the country on 23 March 2020, after the announcement of lockdown by invoking its inherent powers guaranteed under articles 141 and 142 of Indian Constitutions passed a pragmatic order which enlarged the limitation period for filing a petition, applications and appeals and suits across the nation. The order gave a sense of relief for those who would otherwise have been barred by limitation period owing to the shutting down of courts during the lockdown.
High Court of Allahabad
The court passed the following orders by invoking powers given under article 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution:
- All the interim orders passed by high courts, district courts, civil courts or state tribunals that have become obsolete or are about to get lapsed on or after March 19, 2020, shall remain intact until the further order of the court.
- Bail and anticipatory bails orders which are about to get terminated within a month of lockdown were ordered to be elongated for an additional month.
- All the orders pertaining to eviction, dispossession or demolition of the property passed by HC or district courts shall stay until further orders of the court.
Protection of witnesses during Virtual hearings
Supreme Court E committee chaired by Justice Chandrachud ensured the legal regime about the judicial operations through virtual hearings though in State of Kerala v. Rasheed it was propounded by the court that to admit the testimony of a witness given by him in cross-examination, it must be asserted that witness is giving the testimony with his free will without any sort of coercion or influence cast by accused. However, in the new era of virtual hearings, the onus is upon the judiciary to ensure a free environment for witnesses as it is quite difficult to discharge such obligation during virtual court proceedings.
The criminal justice system is deemed as the cornerstone which lays out the substructure of any country and because of the obnoxious situations prevailing in the country due to the unfolding of corona cases, it is conspicuously lagging. Thus the judicial system unquestionably must embrace more newfangled and inventive methods, only then it would be plausible for the criminal justice system to persevere through hapless and jinxed circumstances like the corona pandemic.