India, Callous with under trials who are more than 50 % of its prison population

Written by Gautam Thaker | Published on: December 29, 2015


India had as many as 4,11,992 prisoners in 2013, of which 2,28,879 were such against whom prosecutions were still pending. This means that as many as 67 per cent of the total prisoners in India were under trials; 2,70,783 men and 12,096 women. (Figures of the National Crime Records Bureau, the National Crime Records Bureau, NCRB)
 
From one of the reports it has been revealed that especially this category of prisoners have been deprived of benefits for which they are eligible, for years together. State governments do not implement with any degree of rigour, the guidelines which are issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Supreme Court of India or the even the government of India. 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 by jail authorities, neither the prison administration not the state government implement this legal provision.
 
If the orders and guidelines which were issued (by the Supreme Court of India) in the case of  Bhimsingh[1], for the implementation of this section are followed, a vast majority of under trials in the could have benefited from it. Prisoners are never kept informed of amendments in the laws being made from time to time. The State Level Legal Aids Committee(s) which were formed with the aim of providing justice to the poor and free legal aid to the under trial prisoners, have clearly failed in showing any vision or direction.
 
Coming to Gujarat, the figures according to the NCRB are stark. For 2014 the NCRB shows that the following figures:
 
Time Period Male Female Total

Up to 3 months          
3 months to 6 months            
6 months to 12 months
1 Yr to 2 Yrs              
2 Yrs. to 3 Yrs.           
3 Yrs. to 5 Yrs.           
Above 5 Years
Total                          

1679
1221
1257
1340
869     
585     
247     
7198

78
62
52
57
34
29
7
319

1757
1283
1309
1397
903
614
254
7517
 
According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, states such as Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Punjab are among the worst performing states with over 75 % of under trials remaining in jails for over 3 months. The meetings of Review Committees at the District level, statutorily required to be held every three months, are given the go-by in Gujarat. Although guidelines have been issued to form Lok Adalat(s) or Special courts to deal with this issue,  these guidelines have not yet implemented. Prisoners are not kept informed of ‘the advisory of the guidelines’ issued by the Supreme Court, the government of India and the National Human Rights Commission. Hence, due to this lack of knowledge of their rights, the under trial prisoners do not get benefit of the amendments made in Section 436 of the CRPC. While Gujarat is otherwise flaunted for its ‘good governance’, the state’s home department has been ignoring or neglecting the conditions of under trial prisoners.
 

Gist of Directions by the Supreme Court of India in the Bhim Singh Case

Considering the fact that a large number of under trial prisoners housed in the prisons (the Attorney General Rohatgi admitted that 50 per cent of all prisoners were under trials), the 3-judge bench of R.M. Lodha, CJ and Kurian Joseph and R.F. Nariman, JJ directed the jurisdictional Magistrate/Chief Judicial Magistrate/Sessions Judge to hold one sitting in a week in each jail/prison for two months commencing from October 1, 2014 for the purposes of effective implementation of 436A CrPC which provides for the maximum period for which an under trial prisoner can be detained. The Court was of the opinion that such step was necessary in the interest of criminal justice as by identifying the under trial prisoners who have completed half period of the maximum period or maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence under the law, appropriate orders could be passed in jail itself for release of such under-trial prisoners who fulfill the requirement of Section 436A CrPC for their release immediately.

 
The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) dated March 31, 2013 regarding management of jails is an eye-opener. The CAG has clearly observed that while the Home Department of the Gujarat government is responsible for the management and administration of the jails and for reforms of the prisoners, severe neglect has been 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 a lapse in the security arrangements at Sabarmati Central Jail, the incident of excavation of a tunnel had taken place in which door frame metal detectors, close circuit television system and mobile phone jammers were found to have been rendered 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 the Advisory Board nor Prison Development Board were constituted in spite of provisions in the Model Prison Manual, 2013. To date, the authorities have not been transparent about whether or not the New Gujarat Jail Manual has been drafted or not. It was this lax prison administration that allowed a 218 feet long tunnel to have been dug out within the Sabarmati Jail before it came to the knowledge or notice of anybody,
 
From a close look at audit report of the CAG, about the functioning of the Gujarat Government’s Home Department, it appears that there are clear lapses in the security arrangements at the Jail. If the Jail Administration functions as per the rules and had been efficient, 55 prisoners could not have succeeded in digging a 218 feet long tunnel without this coming to the notice of the authorities. The responsibility lies with the IGP (Prisons) 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 and have not yet been traced.  This speaks volumes about the functioning of the Home Department of Gujarat. All these are observations from the CAG Report. It is no wonder then that any discussion on the CAG report have been (un-democratically) simply prohibited in the Gujarat state legislative assembly.

(The writer is General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, PUCL, Gujarat) 
 
[1]  Bhim Singh v. Union of India, Writ Petition(s)(Criminal) No(s). 310 of 2005, decided on 05.09.2014.