Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

‘Jail is the exception and bail the rule in cases that entail up to 7-year term’

NEW DELHI: With overcrowding in jails becoming a major cause for concern, the unwritten rule for grant of bail now is that in cases that entail up to seven years’ imprisonment, jail is the exception and bail the rule. So in Delhi even a molester would be able to walk away after conviction because there is shortage of space in jails to lodge them.

New jail

The Public Accounts Committee of the Delhi Assembly had also submitted a report in the House recently on the functioning of the State Prison Department and management of jails in Delhi, following a visit to the Tihar Central Jail in November, in which it stated that timely completion of the new jail at Mandoli should be given utmost priority as it would have a capacity for 3,500 inmates and would reduce overcrowding in the existing jails substantially.

Taking note of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for the year ended March 2005, which had stated that “cells and wards had a stale air causing suffocating conditions; due to lack of adequate space, inmates were overflowing in the verandahs in the cell blocks where there were no fans; all the prisoners were not provided with sleeping berths as envisaged in the manual; the bathing space was inadequate, on an average 16 to 53 prisoners were using one bathing space; and many of the toilet blocks were overflowing due to choked sewer lines”, the PAC first sought a reply from the Department and then undertook a visit.

Several improvements

The Principal Secretary (Home) informed the Committee that the CAG had raised the issue in March 2005 and in the past four years several improvements have been made in the jails.

The Prison Department informed the Committee that the prison population had showed a decline in the past four years. From 13,436 on December 31, 2006, the population had come down to 11,362 on October 30, 2009. It was mentioned that the main reasons for the decline in population were that the Delhi High Court had passed some landmark judgments which greatly helped to decongest the jails.

Then, holding of special courts on monthly basis for disposal of petty offence facilitated settlement of cases of 4,719 offenders till October 2009. And holding of plea bargaining courts led to the settlement of 666 cases.

Based on the various reports and its visit, the Committee chaired by Prahlad Singh Sawhney stated that it was not much impressed by the projection of jail population of around 12,500 only for the year 2020 as made by the Department in its report and said “a more realistic approach is required to be taken by the Department in this regard by taking into consideration all the relevant factors like rapidly increasing population, crime rate, our criminal justice policy and occurrence of delays in prison construction programmes”.

Meanwhile, Tihar Jail officials insist that the deaths of some inmates in the prison complex in June 2007 changed many things. “At that point in time we had about 13,700 inmates and the number even touched 14,000 for some time. Then the courts began granting bails liberally and made it an unwritten rule rather than an exception in all criminal cases involving a maximum punishment of less than seven years.”

Liberal view

Besides, a liberal view of cases under the Arms Act was taken and many more inmates were released. “Since the release of inmates became liberal, complaints began pouring in that it was increasing the crime rate. But the High Court had in 2007 itself asked the Delhi Police Commissioner to file a report on the matter and it revealed that the release of the inmates had no impact on the crime rate. It was revealed that most of the arrests were unnecessary. In fact, Delhi registered less crime that year,” said the official, adding that less than 10 per cent of the jail inmates really fell into the category of “inmates who could create mischief”.