Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Friday said “it is just too much” that people given bail by courts, even by the Supreme Court, have to wait for days before the prison authorities released them.
The CJI, heading a Special Bench, voiced the court’s exasperation at the prison authorities who insisted on receiving by hand the “authentic” hard copy of the bail order regardless of the fact that the personal liberty of people suffered. “In this age of information and communication technology, we are still looking at the skies for the pigeons to communicate the orders,” he remarked orally.
So, as a solution, the Chief Justice, flanked by Justices L. Nageswara Rao and A.S. Bopanna, announced in open court the rolling out of a new scheme called ‘FASTER’ or ‘Fast and Secure Transmission of Electronic Records’ by which the court would instantly, directly, securely and electronically transmit bail and other orders to the jail authorities, district courts and the High Courts.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal appreciated the court’s initiative.
When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said orders anyway were uploaded on the court website, Justice Rao said “the idea behind the scheme is to transmit orders securely”.
The Bench asked the State governments to file their reports about the Internet connectivity in jails to prevent technical glitches in future. The Secretary General of the Supreme Court was directed to submit a comprehensive report formulating the scheme within two weeks.
Suo motu case
The hearing was based on a suo motu case, ‘In Re: Delay in release of convicts after grant of bail’, registered on the initiative of the CJI to confront the problem that affects the liberty and dignity of prisoners.
The immediate trigger for the registration of the suo motu case seemed to be the delay shown by the Agra Jail authorities to release 13 prisoners who had suffered imprisonment for up to two decades despite the Juvenile Justice Board declaring them ‘juveniles’ at the time of commission of their crimes. The Hindu had reported that the prison authorities took nearly four days to release them despite Supreme Court granting them bail on July 8.
Another incident was the inexplicable delay on the part of the Indore Central Jail authorities to release stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui following grant of bail by the Supreme Court.
Again, Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal and Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha walked out of the Tihar Jail nearly two days after the Delhi High Court granted them bail.
To decongest prisons
The apex court has made concerted moves in the recent months to decongest prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May, a Bench led by the CJI ordered the police to limit arrests during the pandemic to prevent overcrowding of jails, and urged courts to not order detention in a mechanical manner.