Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Considering the dire need for prison reform, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that prisoners, like all other human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity. Taking note of the fact that the prisons suffer from a wide range of problems like overcrowding, delay in trial, custodial deaths, inadequacy of staff, Insubstantial food and inadequate clothing, etc, the Court said that despite of the various discussions and decisions by this Court regarding this issue over the last 35 years, we are still struggling with resolution of this problem.

Hence, the Court issued the below mentioned directions in order to tackle the situation:

  1. The Under Trial Review Committee, which has been set up in various States, should meet quarterly and the first meeting should be held before 31st March, 2016.
  2. Aspects pertaining to effective implementation of Section 436 of the Cr.P.C. and Section 436A of the Cr.P.C. and those who cannot furnish bail bonds due to their poverty are not subjected to incarceration only for that reason should be considered.
  3. Adequate number of competent lawyers should be empanelled to assist undertrial prisoners and convicts, particularly the poor and indigent.
  4. Issue of the release of undertrial prisoners in compoundable offences, should be looked into, the effort being to effectively explore the possibility of compounding offences rather than requiring a trial to take place.
  5. Proper and effective utilization of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is commensurate with human dignity.
  6. Ministry of Home Affairs will ensure that the Management Information System is in place at the earliest in all the Central and District Jails as well as jails for women so that there is better and effective management of the prison and prisoners.
  7. Annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual 2016 should be conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Court also issued a notice to the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India in order to ensure that a manual similar to the Model Prison Manual is prepared in respect of juveniles who are in custody either in Observation Homes or Special Homes or Places of Safety in terms of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. [Re – Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 121 decided on 05.02.2016]

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While reiterating that it is the constitutional responsibility and statutory obligation of the Governments to review each case of under-trial prisoner and take appropriate action including release of the prisoner and inform the prisoners concerned and the concerned authorities, CIC noted that the duty of the Governments also extends to inform the authorities, which will facilitate the release, or enable prisoner or any other person to demand release based on information made available. The Commission was hearing an appeal filed by an RTI activist who sought information regarding steps taken by the Home Department towards the implementation of the Central Directive No. V13013/70/2012IS (VI) dated 17.01.2013 issued by Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs to the Home Secretaries to all States. The Home Ministry, vide the said directive requested the State Governments and Union Territories to adopt various measures to reduce overcrowding of prisons. The authorities were also directed to constitute an Under-trial Review Committee (URC) to decide on release of under-trial inmates. As the appellant was not satisfied by the response provided by the Central Jails of Tihar and District Jail of Rohini, she approached the Commission. During the proceedings, Commission referred to the amended provision of S. 436-A, CrPC and observed that under-trial prisoners can be detained only for one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the alleged crime for which they have been charged. This does not prevail upon offences for which the punishment of death has been specified as one of the punishments. The Commission also referred to several decisions of Supreme Court and CIC and noted that it is necessary and appropriate for the Under-Trial Review Committee to issue necessary instructions to provide the release related information to the concerned from time to time for effective implementation of Section 436A and directions of the Supreme Court. The Commission further observed that even a single day delay in release of under-trial prisoners, who are entitled to such release as per Section 436-A, will amount to serious violation of their right to life under Article 21 of Constitution. For this violation no amount of compensation would be sufficient. Hence, there is a strong need to prevent breach of Article 21 by implementing Section 436-A. Accordingly, the Commission directed the authorities of Tihar Jail and Rohini Jail, to provide a) latest status on the implementation of the Central directive dated 17.01.2013, and b) proposed list of prisoners to be released and other possible consequences like review committee meetings, etc within 20 days from the date of receipt of this order to the appellant, which shall also be disclosed under Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act in their official website. The Commission also directed the Home Department to issue directives to all Jail authorities to prepare the list of under-trial prisoners supposed to be released from time to time at least for every quarter, informing the fact of their release. “Any such release of under-trial prisoner cannot be delayed,” added the Commission. Divya Iyer v. Tihar Jail, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 7164decided on 13-8-2015

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Considering the fact that a large number of undertrial prisoners housed in the prisons, the 3-judge bench of R.M. Lodha, CJ and Kurian Joseph and R.F. Nariman, JJ directed the jurisdictional Magistrate/Chief Judicial Magistrate/Sessions Judge to hold one sitting in a week in each jail/prison for two months commencing from 1st October, 2014 for the purposes of effective implementation of 436A CrPC which provides for the maximum period for which an undertrial prisoner can be detained. The Court was of the opinion that such step was necessary in the interest of criminal justice as by identifying the under-trial prisoners who have completed half period of the maximum period or maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence under the law, appropriate orders could be passed in jail itself for release of such under-trial prisoners who fulfill the requirement of Section 436A CrPC for their release immediately.

The attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, upon being asked by the Court to submit a report upon the steps being taken by the Government of India for fast-tracking the criminal justice in India, submitted before the Court that process of consultation with the State Governments for fast-tracking criminal justice has already been commenced by the Central Government but the blueprint/road-map for fast-tracking of criminal cases shall take some time. However, he also pointed out that more that 50% of the prisoners in various jails were undertrial prisoners and that many of them may have served maximum sentence prescribed under the law for the offences they have been charged with.

The Court was, hence, of the opinion that it is high time, positive steps are taken by the Central Government in consultation with the State Governments in fast tracking all types of criminal cases so that criminal justice is delivered timely and expeditiously. Bhim Singh v. Union of India, Writ Petition(s)(Criminal) No(s). 310 of 2005, decided on 05.09.2014.