NATIONAL

Indian jails overcrowded: report

NEW DELHI JULY 26. Jails in India were overcrowded and in some States filled to over 400 per cent of their capacity. The vast majority of the inmates were not convicted felons but those awaiting trial, according to a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report based on the information collected from all but two States and Union Territories.

The report issued today said that 70 per cent of those in jail (2,15,183 of a total of 2,90,065 inmates) were undertrials. In Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya, undertrials accounted for 90 per cent of the jail population. In Delhi, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir the percentage of undertrials was 80.

There have been efforts in the last few years to try and change this trend as it is accepted that the majority of the undertrials were those charged with minor offences without the means to afford bail. Fast-track courts have been set up specifically to deal with undertrials. A few years ago the Supreme Court directed all High Court Chief Justices to treat on priority cases of those undertrials incarcerated for longer than the maximum sentence for the crime they were charged with.

Yet, the NHRC report found that the overall population of undertrials in jails had been going up, rising by about 7 per cent in one year. Tamil Nadu was the only State which had shown improvement. From 2000 to 2001 it had to cut down the percentage of undertrials from 76 per cent to 31.12 per cent.

The NHRC has, over the years, drawn attention to the issue of undertrials in jails. In an earlier report, it was described as a result of "unconscionable delay in the disposal of cases.'' All States and Union Territories are now required to send statements of their jail populations as on June 30 and December 31every year. The report said that despite this, the NHRC had been facing "a lot of difficulties'' as the States had "not been very forthcoming'' with the information.

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