New Delhi: How many reports and recommendations of how many commissions of inquiries have, so far, been implemented in India or even been taken up for consideration? The answer does not require extensive research. Google “commissions of inquiries, India” and you will get an answer. The answer should convince you that commissions of inquiries (COIs) are for giving a quietus to a combustive matter.

Controversial, sensational, “burning,” embarrassing, “vote-threatening” and “votebank-diminishing issues” will be immediately given a decent and “honourable” burial by establishing a COI. Unlike honour killings that are brutal and sudden, this is “decent” and “diplomatic”, even “democratic”. Kalki Krishnamurthy, the legendary editor of the famed Tamil weekly, Kalki, was quoted having said that “If you want to bury a matter ‘put a stone’ or a committee on it.”

So, is it conceivable that the recommendations of the Justice (Retired) Jagdish Saran Varma committee on criminal law amendments, following the social upheaval over the Delhi gangrape and murder case, would have a different and better fate? Hardly likely. A succession of prime ministers have promised sincere implementation of the recommendations of previous COIs, and Manmohan Singh is no different when he assures due consideration of the Varma panel suggestions. But the familiar pattern will follow, namely the quiet burial of the recommendations and suggestions, as other events come to occupy public memory, which is in any case short, whilst the media retentiveness is shorter.

Then, again, would fast-track courts serve the purpose? In truth, no. Fast-track courts cannot bypass procedures established by law. Whether it is criminal or civil, once a matter reaches the court, procedures have to be followed. In both civil and criminal cases, pleadings have to be completed, which comprise reply, rejoinder, replication and examination of witnesses, perusal of evidences, followed by cross-examination and arguments. In criminal matters, there has to be argument on charges preceded by scrutiny of documents. Can fast-track courts bypass such established procedures?

Perhaps the only benefit is that hearings can be expected to be held day-to-day, avoiding some delay, but then, is there any special procedure for completion of the pleadings with dispatch? No. Further, should fast-track courts be only for rape cases? Or similar cases of heinous crimes? Shouldn’t you, as an ordinary citizen, as a “consumer of justice”, as my esteemed professor, N.R. Madhava Menon, founder of the National Law University in Bangalore and Calcutta, used to put it, expect and obtain speedy trial for your cases too?

Assume you are enmeshed in a civil case involving property, a residential flat or a house. Should procedural delays drag the case on for decades? In my own experience, cases have been delayed for 30 to 40 years. What was started during the grandfather’s time is still being fought by grandsons. So how can anyone be content that cases only pertaining to rape and murder be finished within a compressed timeframe whilst others drag on for decades, even given the need for judicial intolerance for rape?

What is the remedy?

Whilst establishing fast-track courts, there should be a prescribed timeframe for completion of pleadings, six months, say, for civil cases, and three months for criminal proceedings. This period should include exchange of documents, evidence submitted for record, reply rejoinder, and examination of witnesses. Within another month, arguments should be completed, and a judgment pronounced in thirty days. There are numerous cases where judgments are reserved and not pronounced for months and years, right from 1950 when the Constitution of India was adopted.

Whether a juvenile is to be tried for a crime or an adult, the trial should be over within six months. A juvenile could be tried like an adult along with the adult accused in heinous crimes with the sentencing being different depending on his age. The juvenile need not be sent to a reformatory home. And eschewing the practice in the US, UK and France, countries we remain in awe of, there need be no separate law, trying the juvenile like an adult in heinous crimes, and as a juvenile in others.

In every crime, a juvenile should be tried like an adult, since his link to the others in the case is critical to obtaining convictions, but his punishment should be age-specific. The Jagdish Saran Varma committee could not arrive at this critical distinction. If such a distinction is made, the Juvenile Justice Act could be annulled, about whose provisions there is considerable debate, and the existing provisions of the criminal and civil laws may be strictly followed.