Supreme Court slams primeval conditions in jails, observation homes

Do you view undertrial prisoners as humans

November 22, 2018 09:47 pm | Updated 09:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Undertrial prisoners accounted for 62% of India’s prison population, against the world average of 18-20%. File photo

Undertrial prisoners accounted for 62% of India’s prison population, against the world average of 18-20%. File photo

The Supreme Court asked the government on Thursday whether it viewed undertrial prisoners and children who suffered primeval conditions in jails and observation homes as “human beings.”

Undertrial prisoners accounted for 62% of India’s prison population, against the world average of 18-20%, the court said. The statistic raised questions about the humaneness of our system, it said.

A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta said officials hardly went out of their offices to visit these prisons or observation homes. It took two Supreme Court judges — Justices U.U. Lalit and A.K. Goel (retired) — to visit the Faridabad jail and observation home to understand the full horror of the living conditions of the inmates.

“Just go and have a look… Your officials do not know because they have never been to a jail or observation home. They do not step out. Taps are leaking, no whitewash, clogged sewage, toilets not working… The situation is very pathetic. That’s why two judges of the Supreme Court got very agitated when they saw...what is happening,” Justice Lokur addressed Additional Solicitor-General Aman Lekhi, for the Centre.

The two judges informed the court of their visit, and the court took cognisance of the letters.

“The whole thing has become a joke… Do these people have no rights? Are they even seen as human beings. These are children… Are these children not citizens of our country? Please visit these jails and observation homes,” Justice Lokur said.

The court compared the condition of the undertrial prisoners and the juveniles in observation homes with that of influential prisoners who watched TV shows on sofas and “enjoy life” in prisons. “Is there a parallel system running in jails? Do they [the influential prisoners] have special rights? What have you done about Tihar Jail,” Justice Lokur asked Mr. Lekhi, showing him media reports and pointing to one, saying “he [the prisoner] is enjoying TV and God knows what all he is enjoying.”

“I will put them [the authorities] on notice. Stringent action has to be taken. This has to be tackled,” Mr. Lekhi said.

“But what is the government going to do? Is it going to say that prisons is a State subject and the Government of India has no concern,” Justice Lokur asked.

The court expressed concern about the facilities given to Justice Amitava Roy, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who is heading a committee appointed to review the cases of undertrial prisoners. The court has sought details of the infrastructure for the committee.

In March, the court’s amicus curiae Gaurav Agrawal submitted that 240 jails in the country were housing inmates 150% above their capacity. His report said that of the 77,000 sanctioned posts in the prisons department, 24,500 were vacant. Mr. Agarwal said Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh were some of the worst cases in the prison staff-inmate ratio. Only 5,000 prison staffers monitored over 92,000 inmates in Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu had 4,000 prison staffers to monitor 13,000 prisoners.

Mr. Agrawal said there were 18 jails exclusively for women. There were separate areas for women in other jails, but there was a severe lack of space. He said these jails were not modelled to house women inmates, especially those with minor children staying with them.

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