Expressing concern over the surging numbers of those incarcerated in prisons across the country, the Supreme court today said overcrowding of jails has gone up even after a slew of directions to check it.
The apex court also said there was no noticeable change in the condition of prisoners and observed that prisoners deserve to be treated with dignity.
“It is clear that in spite of several orders passed by this Court from time to time in various petitions, for one reason or another, the issue of overcrowding in jails continues to persist …,” a bench of Justices M B Lokur and R K Agrawal said.
“Has anything changed on the ground? The prison statistics available as on December 31, 2014 from the website of NCRB indicate that as far as overcrowding is concerned, there is no perceptible change and in fact the problem of overcrowding has perhaps been accentuated with the passage of time,” the apex court said.
The court, which passed a slew of directions aimed at prison reforms, said despite various directions and assurances by the government, there has been no significant change in the condition inside jails.
“The sum and substance … Is that prisoners, like all human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity,” it said.
The social justice bench also noted that maximum overcrowding was in the jail of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (331.7 per cent), followed by Chhattisgarh (258.9 per cent) and Delhi (221.6 per cent).
The court issued notice to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and directed it to prepare a prison manual after taking into consideration the condition of juveniles who are in Observation Homes.
“Prison reforms have been the subject matter of discussion and decisions rendered by this Court from time to time over the last 35 years. Unfortunately, even though Article 21 of the Constitution requires a life of dignity for all persons, little appears to have changed on the ground as far as prisoners are concerned and we are once again required to deal with issues relating to prisons in the country and their reform,” the bench said.
On June 13, 2013 former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti, had written a letter to Chief Justice of India relating to the inhuman conditions in 1382 prisons in India which was reported in a newspaper. Subsequently, a PIL was registered and notices issued to the government.
With regard to the functioning of Undertrial Review
Committee, the apex court asked the panel in every district to meet every quarter and directed Secretary of District Legal Services Committee to attend the meetings for release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentence.
“The Under Trial Review Committee should specifically look into aspects pertaining to effective implementation of Section 436 of CrPC and Section 436A of the CrPC so that undertrial prisoners are released at the earliest and those who cannot furnish bail bonds due to their poverty are not subjected to incarceration only for that reason.
“The Under Trial Review Committee will also look into issue of implementation of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 particularly with regard to first-time offenders so that they have a chance of being restored and rehabilitated in society,” the bench said.
It also ordered the member secretary of State Legal Services Authority of every state, in coordination with the Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee, to ensure that an adequate number of competent lawyers are empanelled to assist undertrial prisoners and convicts who cannot afford legal aid.
“The Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee will also look into the issue of the release of undertrial prisoners in compoundable offences, the effort being to effectively explore the possibility of compounding offences rather than requiring a trial to take place.
“The Director General of Police/Inspector General of Police in-charge of prisons should ensure that there is proper and effective utilisation of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is commensurate with human dignity. This also includes the issue of their health, hygiene, food, clothing, rehabilitation etc,” the court said.
The bench also directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to ensure that Management Information System in all central and district jails was in place at the earliest.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs will conduct an annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual 2016 for which considerable efforts have been made not only by senior officers of the Ministry of Home Affairs but also persons from civil society.
“The Model Prison Manual 2016 should not be reduced to yet another document that might be reviewed only decades later, if at all. The annual review will also take into consideration the need, if any, of making changes therein. The Under Trial Review Committee will also look into the issues raised in the Model Prison Manual 2016 including regular jail visits as suggested in the said Manual. We direct accordingly,” it said.
( Source – PTI )