Number of undertrial prisoners is 67%: Civil society will have to take initiative to ensure justice to all these prisoners

By Gautam Thaker*

In India, in the year 2013, there were 4,11,992 prisoners, out of which, those against whom prosecution was pending, were numbering at 2,28,879. This means that in the country, the number of undertrial prisoners was 67%. These undertrial prisoners consist of 2,70,783 men and 12,096 women. From one of the reports it has been revealed that especially this category of prisoners has been deprived of benefits for which they are eligible for years together. The State Governments do not implement with any degree of concern the guidelines which are issued by the National Human Rights Commission, Supreme Court or the Central government.

Although there is a provision as per Section 436 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code that those who have completed more than half of the maximum punishment can be set free on bail, currently, neither the jailor nor the State governments is implementing this. If the orders and guidelines, which were issued in the case of writ petition of Bhimsingh for the implementation of this Section, are followed, then majority of under-trials can benefit from it. Prisoners are never kept informed of amendments in the laws being made from time to time. The State Level Legal Aids Committees, which were formed with the aim of providing justice to the poor and free legal aid to undertrial prisoners, have apparently failed in showing correct directions.

Screen shot 2016-01-01 at 8.50.16 AMInstead of talking on the all-India level, if we take a look at Gujarat State, number of prisoners who are under the trial and have been sentenced to imprisonment, as at the end of 2014, has one can see the chart attached here.

According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, States such as Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Punjab are the worst performing states with over 75% of undertrials remaining in jails for over 3 months. Meetings of Review Committees at district level have to be held every three months, but this has not happened in the case of Gujarat. Although the guidelines have been issued to form Lok Adalat or Special courts, the same is not yet implemented. Prisoners are not kept informed of advisory of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court, Government of India and the National Human Rights Commission. Due to this, the undertrial prisoners do not get benefit of the amendments made in Section 436.

While Gujarat is known for good governance, it is not understood as to why it is ignoring or neglecting the problems faced by the under-trial prisoners. Such an approach is highly dangerous for the democracy and shameful for the Government. The civil society will have to work out effective strategy so as to enhance its access and accountability so as to provide justice to such prisoners.

Report of the CAG dated March 31, 2013 regarding management of jails is shocking. The CAG has clearly stated that the Home Department of the Gujarat government is responsible for management and administration of the jails and for reforms of the prisoners. But neglect is shown on this front. The CAG has brought out in its report for the period from 2008 to 2013, many deficiencies and defects in this regard.

Due to lapse in the security arrangements at Sabarmati Central Jail, incident of excavation of tunnel had taken place in which door frame metal detectors, close circuit TV system and mobile phone jammers were found to be ineffective or non-functional. No Watch Towers were erected at the Sabarmati Central Jail. There was shortage of staff and inadequacy of medical facilities. And besides that, neither Advisory Board nor Prison Development Board was constituted in spite of provision as per the Model Prison Manual, 2013.

It has not come to notice or knowledge as to whether the new Gujarat Jail Manual has been drafted or not till date. What a mystery or a miracle that even when 218 feet long tunnel has been dug out in Sabarmati Jail but it had not come to knowledge or notice of anybody?

From the inquiry in the audit report of the CAG about functioning of the Home Department, it clearly appears that there are lapses in the security arrangements at the jail. If the jail administration functions as per the rules and is strong then how is it possible that tunnel episode has taken place inside the jail. Is it possible that even when as many as 55 prisoners dig out a tunnel but the same has not been noticed during the supervision of the IGP or the deputy IGP? Out of 1,540 prisoners who have escaped or fled from the jail, as many as 657 prisoners are still at large or absconding or could not be traced out.

Looking to all this, what more can one write about functioning of the Home Department of the State? All these observations are of the CAG. Unfortunately, discussions on these observations are not allowed in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly.

*General secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat. Contact: 098253 82556

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