Terming as “serious” the issue of undertrials languishing in jails, the Supreme Court today asked the Centre to convene a meeting of home secretaries of all the states to find a solution to the problem.
“This is a very serious matter. There are over 31,000 Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Scheduled Caste (SC) undertrial prisoners. This is the obligation of states and every state has to take care of undertrial prisoners,” a bench comprising Chief Justice R M Lodha and justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman said.
The bench asked the Centre not to remain a “mute spectator” and rather act as a nodal agency. “You (Centre) act as a nodal agency. Talk to the states. You cannot remain as a mute spectator,” it said.
The bench then recorded the statement of Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre and directed that a meeting of home secretaries be held within six weeks for considering the issue of undertrial prisoners, including those from SC and ST communities.
“After the meeting, a report be filed within two weeks thereafter. It shall contain the status of undertrial prisoners as on March 31, 2014,” it said.
The bench, which has made all state government as parties, was hearing the PIL filed by Jinendra Jain on behalf of society ‘Fight For Human Rights’ alleging that thousands of tribals were languishing in various central jails without any trial in Naxal-affected states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Advocate K R Chitra, appearing for the society, had said the Centre and the states be asked to respond as the issue was related to the fundamental rights of the underprivileged sections.
Adivasi undertrials are languishing in various jails for a very long period without any trial and as a result, unrest and hostilities are prevailing in tribal areas of the country, she had said.
“Often, the undertrials are not informed about the grounds of their arrests,” the PIL said. They are not even duly represented by lawyers of their choice as there are very few interpretors available in courts who can speak Adivasi languages like ‘Gondi’ and ‘Halbi’, it said.
The PIL said, “Adivasi undertrials speak only Adivasi language and there are no sufficient number of interpreters/translators available in courts, hence they are deprived of their fundamental right of fair trials as they are unable to explain the real facts and circumstances to the judicial officers.”
The undertrials, arrested mostly in Naxal-violence related cases, are lodged in distant central jails and hence deprived of “their rights to meet their relatives”, it said.
The PIL also sought a direction to the Centre and the states to “initiate urgent concrete action and also appoint a special commission of eminent jurists” to oversee dedicated fast track courts to hear their cases.