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Packed like sardines, kept like animals: Gorakhpur ‘hero’ latest victim of crowded jails

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Kafeel Khan alleged he was one of 150 prisoners lodged in a barracks meant for 50. But he’s not alone; overcrowded jails are a perennial problem in India.

New Delhi: A few days ago, Dr Kafeel Khan, the man hailed by many as the hero who tried to save children in the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy, was granted bail, having spent almost eight months in a UP jail. He said he had had to sleep on the floor, alleging that he was one of 150 prisoners lodged in a barracks meant to accommodate only 50.

Khan isn’t the only one who has faced this, for almost all prisons in India are overcrowded beyond their capacity, according to data submitted to the Supreme Court in March this year.

Cold, hard numbers

India has 134 central jails with a capacity of 1,59,158 prisoners. However, the actual occupancy is much higher at 1,85,182 (116.4 per cent).

The central jail in Mumbai, Maharashtra, has the maximum occupancy rate at 332 per cent, whereas Tihar Jail in Delhi 243 per cent.

The 379 district jails in the country can accommodate 1,37,972 prisoners, though there are close to 1,80,893 prisoners (131.1 per cent) lodged in them.

In Bihar’s Madhepura, the occupancy rate is 338 per cent of capacity, whereas in Haryana’s Rewari, the district jail is overcrowded by 270 per cent. The district jail of Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir has a 248 per cent occupancy rate, while Hailakandi in Assam is overcrowded by 200 per cent. Dantewada in Chhattisgarh is overcrowded by 280 per cent.

Source: NCRB data

Across the world, India ranks fifth with 4,19,623 prisoners, according to the World Prison Brief. The United States of America has the largest prison population, followed by China.

Mostly under-trials

It is well known that almost 75 per cent of the prisoners lodged in various jails are under-trials, with many of them having spent more time in prison than they would’ve had they been convicted.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015 revealed that two-thirds of the prisoners in jail are under-trials. The situation in Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir is dire, with over 80 per cent of the prison population being under-trials. Around 25 per cent of the under-trials have spent more than a year behind bars.

Supreme Court aghast

The Supreme Court, in March, had expressed its dismay at this data, and concern for the overburdened jails.

Prisoners “cannot be kept in jail like animals,” a shocked apex court had said after it was informed that more than 1,300 prisons across the country were overcrowded. In fact, according to a report filed by amicus curiae Gaurav Agrawal, prisons in India are overburdened by more than 150 per cent, and, in one particular instance, over 600 per cent.

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