The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to set up special designated courts to hear cases that are pending under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, PTI reported. The top court said that these courts should be set in each district where number of pending child rape cases are more than 100.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi directed the central government to provide funds for the separate courts and set a deadline of 60 days to constitute the courts. The Centre was asked to apprise the top court about the status of compliance of the order in 30 days. The next hearing in the case will be on September 26.

Ranjan Gogoi also pulled up the Centre over the rise in child abuse cases, Firstpost reported. He said that one judge had to oversee over 400 cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and that the Act itself was not implemented well enough.

The bench said the Centre would have to appoint trained, sensitised prosecutors and support persons to deal with POCSO cases. It also directed the chief secretaries of states and Union Territories to ensure timely submission of forensic reports in such cases.

The Supreme Court noted that the collection of nationwide data on child rape cases would delay implementation of POCSO law. It said the suggestion of senior advocate V Giri to set up a forensic lab in each district for expeditious disposal of POCSO cases can wait.

The Supreme Court’s order came a day after Rajya Sabha approved amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act to include death penalty for sexual assault on minors. The amendments also provide for fines and imprisonment for those indulging in child pornography.

The bill was introduced in Parliament by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday, and will now be sent to the Lok Sabha for approval. It was approved by the Union Cabinet earlier this month.

On Monday, the Supreme Court had sought data on the status of child rape cases from various states after expressing concerns over increasing number of such cases and the delay in investigations. The top court had itself initiated a public interest litigation after statistics showed that 24,000 cases had been reported in the first half of 2019.