In the earlier story, it was observed that there is a significant increase in the number of cases registered under COTPA in the year 2020. Data indicates that while the conviction rate for cases under COTPA & Noise Pollution Acts have been more than 99%, the court pendency rate has increased in 2020.
In the earlier story, we had highlighted that the increase in the number of registered cases related to Environment-related Acts in 2020 was mainly due to the increase in the number of cases reported under COTPA i.e., The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act.
While the number of cases reported under ‘The Environment Protection Act’ has also increased, there is a fall in the number of cases reported under other acts related to environmental offences like – the Noise Pollution Act, Forest Act, Wildlife Protection Act, etc. While COVID-19 related regulations are cited as one of the reasons for the increase in the number of cases under COTPA, environment-related experts have also suggested that inconsistencies in reporting could also be one of the reasons for the uneven trends.
While the number of cases registered could point us to a broad trend, disposal of these cases by the police and the courts presents a more complete picture of the efficacy of these laws and their enforcement by the relevant agencies.
In this story, we look at the status of police & court disposal of the cases related to some of the important acts relating to environmental offences.
In COTPA related cases, the increase in new cases has resulted in a fall in the Court disposal rate
Out of the 55.25 thousand cases related to COTPA investigated by the police in 2020, chargesheet was filed for 41.8 thousand cases and sent to the courts for trial i.e., around 76% of the cases up for investigation in the year were charge-sheeted by the police. Another 13.4 thousand cases were pending investigation by the end of the year i.e., 24% pendency rate.
The unusual increase in the number of new cases in 2020 meant that the police disposal rate went below 80% in the year 2020. In 2019, police charge-sheeted 80% of the cases up for investigation, while in 2018 it was 83%. However, in terms of volume, the number of cases charge-sheeted by police almost doubled in 2020 with 41.8 thousand cases resulting in a chargesheet compared to that of 21.8 thousand cases in 2019. Hence, while the disposal rate has reduced slightly, the police were able to match up and chargesheet a significantly greater number of cases in 2020. For comparison, 70% of the total cases filed under ‘State & Other Local Laws’ (SLL) that were up for investigation in 2020 were charge-sheeted.
In the year 2020, the final report was filed in only 18 cases i.e., cases closed by the police.
The increase in the number of new COTPA related cases up for trial in 2020 has affected the disposal rate of courts. The number of cases up for trial in courts increased to 62.8 thousand in 2020 compared to 41.7 thousand in 2019.
The number of cases disposed by the courts reduced from 20.7 thousand in 2019 to 17.32 thousand in 2020. The number of pending cases increased from 21 thousand by the end of 2019 to 45.5 thousand by the end of 2020. The number of pending cases in the courts by the end of 2020, accounted for 72% of the cases up for trial in the year. In 2019, the pendency was only about 50%. The comparatively higher pendency rate in courts in 2020 for COTPA related cases is still lower than the overall pendency rate of SLL related crimes which is around 91% by the end of 2020.
Among the cases that were disposed by the courts, most of them are convictions. In 2020, 17,208 i.e., 99.5% of the 17,323 cases disposed by courts resulted in convictions. Discharge or acquittals were only in 91 cases.
There are cases in which the court denied the bail application in cases related to COTPA. For instance, in the case of Francis Xavier vs. State, the police arrested the accused of transporting 9 bags of banned products weighing 505 kgs under COTPA. The auto and the contraband were seized, and a case was filed. The court deemed that the accusations were of serious nature and dismissed the bail petition filed by the accused.
In another case, the court intervened in a case dealing with the applicability of COTPA during the COVID-19 lockdown. Police made the arrest for transporting a consignment of cigarettes during the lockdown and without permission. The court held that since transportation without permission is not legal, the accused can be punished. However, the court also said that since the transportation of the cigarettes was part of a legal deal, the consignment cannot be withheld.
A review of the pending COTPA related cases shows that most of the cases are pending since the parties involved in the case did not appear and the court had to adjourn the case. The increase in the number of pending cases during 2020 has to be viewed in the context of the overall increase in the volume of cases as well as the challenges faced by the courts in the conduct of normal operations during the pandemic.
While the pendency rate for cases related to Noise Pollution Acts increases, it is still better than overall SLL crimes
Cases related to ‘Noise Pollution Acts’ are the most in number after COTPA related cases among those related to environmental offences.
Unlike COTPA, the number of new cases in 2020 that were filed under the various ‘Noise Pollution Acts’ was less than that of the previous years. But the trend in police and court disposal of cases showed a similar trend to COTPA where the police disposal rate has comparably improved over the years, while the pendency in courts has increased.
However, just as in the case of COTPA, the pendency rate of cases both at police & the courts is lower than the overall pendency of SLL related crimes.
Significantly, not a single case was pending investigation with the police by the end of 2019 as well as 2020. Chargesheet was filed in most of the cases and they were sent for trial in courts.
As far as courts are considered, in 2020, there were 13.42 thousand cases related to ‘Noise pollution acts’ that were up for trial in courts. Of these, 6.1 thousand cases were disposed by the courts with 6064 convictions (more than 99% conviction rate). A total of 54% of the cases up for trial are pending with the courts by the end of 2020. This is higher than 43% pendency rate by the end of 2019. As highlighted, despite the increase in pendency rate in courts for ‘Noise Pollution Acts’ related cases, it is still much lower than the overall pendency rate in courts for SLL related crimes, which is around 91%.
97% pendency in courts in ‘Environment Protection Act’ related offences
Compared to cases under COTPA & Noise pollution-related acts, the number of cases reported under ‘The Environment Protection Act’ is fewer. In the earlier story, we have highlighted that the number of new cases under the ‘Environment Protection Act’ has comparatively increased in 2019 & 2020.
Even before this increase, there is a significantly higher pendency rate in the courts for cases related to ‘The environment protection Act’.
The pendency rate with the police for this act is much lower compared to the overall pendency of SLL crimes. Even in 2020 when the number of new cases registered under this act increased, the police disposed most of them. The pendency rate with the police by the end of 2020 was just about 20% which is in fact lower than in previous years.
The real challenge lies with the courts. In 2020, out of the 1818 cases that were up for a trial, only 32 were disposed by courts, with 98% pending. The increase in the number of cases is not the only reason as the pendency was high even in previous years.
The same trend is observed even in the case of other environment-related acts. Around 95% of the cases are pending trial under ‘Wildlife Protection Act’ by the end of 2020. 90% of the cases under trial related to ‘The Forest Act’ & ‘The Forest Conservation Act’ are pending. The trend has been similar even in earlier years.
Featured Image: Conviction rate under COTPA & Noise Pollution