Inhuman conditions in prisons: Supreme Court pulls up States and Union Territories for not bothering to prepare a Plan of Action
There is over-crowding to the extent of 150% or more in jails in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
New Delhi: Supreme Court of India, in response to a writ petition on “Inhuman Conditions in 1382 prisons” in the country, yesterday passed an order expressing distress by noting “even though this Court has held on several occasions that prisoners both under trials and convicts have certain fundamental rights and human rights, little or no attention is being paid in this regard by the States and some Union Territories including the National Capital Territory of Delhi.”
The Supreme Court order passed by a two Judge Bench comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice R.K. Agrawal categorically states: “Certainly fundamental rights and human rights of people, however they may be placed, cannot be ignored only because of their adverse circumstances.”
Further the Apex Court order points out that not a single State or Union Territory has bothered to prepare a Plan of Action and bring it to the Court’s notice or to the notice of the Amicus. Underscoring this, the Court has said that it is left with no option but to direct the States and the Inspector General of Prisons to prepare a Plan of Action, as already directed on 6 May 2016, for reducing the prison population.
On the information provided to the Court by the Amicus, on the basis of affidavits filed by some of the States, that there are proposals for constructing additional barracks or jails, the order says – these appear to be ad hoc proposals with no time limit specified for completion and in some cases it is not clear whether provision has been made for providing resources for the construction. In this regard, the Court has directed that a viable Plan of Action should be prepared within the next six months and in any event by 31 March 2017.
The Supreme Court has also pointed out that more than sufficient time has elapsed but the Manual for juveniles in custody has not yet been prepared by the Ministry of Women and Child Development of the Government of India. Hence the Court has directed the Ministry to expedite the preparation of the Manual and fixed 30 November 2016 as the deadline for this purpose.
With regard to over-crowding in jails, the Amicus has told the Court that there are several jails where over-crowding is to the extent that there are more than one and a half times the number of prisoners than the permissible limit. It was especially highlighted that an excessive prison population has its own set of problems including hygiene, sanitation, management, and discipline. In terms of suggestion, he submitted that in the first instance the States could be directed to identify jails in which over-crowding was to the extent of 150% or more so that further directions could be given. On the basis of this submission the Supreme Court had called for information. In this context the latest order says: “now find that the situation continues to be not only tragic but also pathetic.”
According to the Amicus, the Emicus drew Court’s attention in writing on 20 September 2016 regarding over-crowding to the extent of 150% or more in jails in Assam (8), Chhattisgarh (17), Jharkhand (3), Karnataka (7), Kerala (21), Madhya Pradesh (5), Maharashtra (16), Rajasthan (21), Uttar Pradesh (47) and Delhi (12). On this issue, the order says: “It is unfortunate that in spite of our directions the prison authorities have not been able to take any effective steps for reducing over-crowding in jails.”
The court has fixed October 18 as the next date of hearing in this case with the direction that the Union of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs should obtain the status of compliance of Court orders passed on 5 February 2016 and 6 May 2016 and on 30 September 2016. The Court has observed that even the rights of prisoners, whether convicts or under trials should be given due importance.
The Supreme Court has reminded the Union of India and the State Governments that as far back as in 1975 the Apex Court, in D. Bhuvan Mohan Patnaik v. State of Andhra Pradesh (referring to a decade old decision then in State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sangzgiri) had reminded that:
“Convicts are not, by mere reason of the conviction, denuded of all the fundamental rights which they otherwise possess. A compulsion under the authority of law, following upon a conviction, to live in a prison-house entails by its own force the deprivation of fundamental freedoms like the right to move freely throughout the territory of India or the right to “practice” a profession. A man of profession would thus stand stripped of his right to hold consultations while serving out his sentence. But the Constitution guarantees other freedoms like the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property for the exercise of which incarceration can be no impediment, likewise, even a convict is entitled to the precious right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution that he shall not be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
The latest order also points out that a Constitution Bench of the Apex Court held in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration in paragraph 213 of the Report stated as follows:
“It is no more open to debate that convicts are not wholly denuded of their fundamental rights. No iron curtain can be drawn between the prisoner and the Constitution. Prisoners are entitled to all constitutional rights unless their liberty has been constitutionally curtailed (see Procunier v. Martinex). However, a prisoner’s liberty is in the very nature or things circumscribed by the very fact of his confinement. His interest in the limited liberty left to him is then all the more substantial. Conviction for crime does not reduce the person into a non-person whose rights are subject to the whim of the prison administration and, therefore, the imposition of any major punishment within the prison system is conditional upon the observance of procedural safeguards (see Wolff v. McDonell).”
The October 3 order goes on to say:
“Unfortunately, it seems that the views of this Court over the 50 years (since Prabhakar Pandurang Sangzgiri in 1966) have continuously fallen on deaf ears and the situation does not seem to be changing even now.
Unless due importance is given to the fundamental rights and human rights of the people, the right to life and the right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution will have no meaning.”