Undertrials languishing in jail despite being granted bail

In a country where undertrial prisoners make up majority of the already overcrowded jails, a recent decision of the Delhi High Court has set in motion a reform that is preventing many of the undertrials languishing unnecessarily in jails.

In December last year, a public interest litigation (PIL) had brought up the issue of over 300 undertrials, who despite being granted bail by courts were languishing in capital’s jails due to their inability to furnish bail bonds and surety bonds.

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar in a significant ruling said it was the responsibility of every judge issuing an order of bail to monitor its execution and enforcement.

“The importance of the rights of prisoners under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, who have been accused of even serious crimes, cannot be overlooked under any circumstance,” the High Court had remarked.

The HC had observed that failure of a court in ensuring that an order of bail was complied with could lead to departmental action against the concerned judicial magistrate.

Swung into action

As the lower judiciary judges, jail authorities and State legal service authorities swung into action, around 200 undertrial prisoners were released.

Most of these undertrial prisoners were either unable to furnish bond amount or give sufficient surety — a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking such as appearing in court.

Shahrukh, facing trial in an assault case, was directed to be released on bail in October last year. But, as his mother was unwell, he was not able to fulfil the bail condition. He was subsequently released in January.

Another undertrial prisoner in a theft case, Yogeshan had secured a bail order in September last year. He had only an aged mother in the family who was unable to stand as surety. He has since been released on bail.

Advocate Ajay Verma, on whose PIL the High Court has passed the direction, told The Hindu that the case of each of the undertrial prisoners who have secured bail has been taken up by the authorities on priority after the court order.

Mr. Verma said though a large number of undertrial prisoners have been released, many more remain.

Shivnath, who is facing trial in a robbery case was granted bail over four months ago, but has not been released yet. The reason being his family lives in Assam and there was no one in Delhi to give surety.

Another undertrial Sonu, facing trial in a separate robbery case, was granted bail as far back as June last year, but continues to be in jail as he has lost contact with his family in Bihar and there is no one to furnish a bail bond of ₹15,000.

Risk assessment

Mr. Verma said a risk assessment of these undertrial prisoners will be conducted on a case-by-case basis, relying on which they will either be released or denied bail.

The Delhi government in a status report to the High Court has said that a mechanism is being developed by the computer team of the Delhi District Courts to share the bail orders and the release warrants with the Delhi Police and jail authorities.

“The jail authorities cannot state at this stage about receiving of all bail orders from the concerned courts unless having knowledge of day-to-day courts case proceedings in respect of prisoners,” it said adding, “At present we are receiving true hard copies of bail orders in respect of prisoners from the courts”.

There is also work on developing software which will facilitate sharing real time information amongst the police, judiciary and the jail authorities. For this, the New Delhi District has been taken as a pilot area.

Details to be shared

Under the system, as and when any FIR is registered and the date regarding complainant, accused, offence and other details are captured, it will be shared with the court system as well as with the jail authorities.

Similarly, as and when any accused is sent to judicial custody, information in this regard will be shared with the jail authorities and Delhi Police on a real-time basis.

Efforts are also being made to create an alert in the National Prisons Information Portal (NPIP) regarding the list of inmates who was granted bail but has been in jail due to being unable to furnish the surety provision.

As per Prison Statistics 2015, out of the total 4,19,623 inmates in various jails across the country, 2,82,076 or 67.2% were undertrials prisoners. Delhi had 10,879 undertrial prisoners which made up 76.7% of the total prison inmates strength that year.

The pan-India figure also revealed that a total of 11,451 undertrial prisoners were lodged beyond three years and upto five years and another 3,599 undertrials were detained in jails for five years or more in the country.

The Capital’s jail had over 5,000 undertrial prisoners with more than six months of period of detention.

The High Court has noted that it will also be the responsibility of prison authorities to promptly bring any instance of a prisoner being unable to secure release from prison despite an order of bail having been passed in his favour to the notice of the trial courts as well as the concerned Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority.

‘Sensitive and vigilant’

“The trial courts should be not only sensitive but extremely vigilant in cases where they are recording orders of bail to ascertain the compliance thereof,” the High Court has stated.

The Director (Academics) of the Delhi Judicial Academy has been directed to design a training module and schedule of trainings relating to matters of bail and release of prisoners for the trial court judges.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 7:08:03 PM |

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