New Delhi: Overcrowding in jails is connected to “performance of courts”, the Supreme Court observed Wednesday and said it will pass directions to deal with the issue affecting 1,341 prisons in the country which house 4.68 lakh inmates as against the sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, said it will also pass direction to effectively deal with the problem of shortage of staffers in jails “which are on an average 30 to 40 per cent” of sanctioned strength.
The problem was “connected to the performance of the courts and will have to be tackled”, the bench said, taking note of issue of overcrowding in prisons.
It asked the Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, to take instructions and apprise it as to how they are going to address the immediate concerns of filling up vacancies in jails and over-crowding in them as highlighted by the prison reforms committee headed by former apex court judge Justice Amitava Roy.
“We will pass orders after two weeks on the issues of overcrowding in jails and filling up of vacancies,” said the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, as the law officer sought time for taking instructions.
“A N S Nadkarni, Additional Solicitor General, prays for time to obtain instructions on the preliminary report of the Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms especially on the issues such as filling up of vacancies in the prisons and over-crowding of prisons. Prayer is allowed. Put up after two weeks,” the bench said in its order.
The top court is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions in 1,382 prisons across India after it had taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance of a letter written way back in 2013.
The apex court-appointed Justice Roy panel in its report has given report on the problems faced by prisons across the country and suggested probable directions which can be passed as remedial measures.
“A total of 1,341 prisons are presently functional in India as on November 30, 2018…and the total population of prisoners in India as on November 30, 2018 is 4.68 lakh against total sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh,” the report said.
“From 2016 to 2018, the total prison population in India has increased by 8.2 per cent against an increase of 0.7 per cent in the prison sanctioned capacity,” it said.
In 2017, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) had placed a data which had said that the holding capacity of jails in the country was around 3.78 lakh and the actual number of inmates lodged was 4.19 lakh.
“Seven states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttarkhand, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Delhi have an occupancy rate of 150 per cent,” the report said.
It also referred to shortage of prison staff and said it is 30 to 40 per cent of the total strength and that needed to be remedied as it hindered implementation of Model Prison Manual and various jail reforms.
The report suggested that the court should pass directions asking authorities to start recruitment process against permanent vacancies within three months and the process should be completed in a year.
To deal with overcrowding in jails, the report also suggested various measures including that the courts may be asked to use their “discretionary powers” and award sentences like “fine and admonition” if possible instead of sending the offenders to jails.
Courts may be encouraged to release offenders on probation at pre-trial stage or after trial in deserving cases, it said.
The bench would take up the matter after two weeks.
The top curt had earlier expressed concerns saying that as many as 67 per cent prisoners in the “overcrowded” jails across India were undertrials and had sought urgent steps for early conclusion of their cases.
It had directed the undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to meet every month for the first six months of 2019 to review the cases of undertrial inmates and submit reports to the legal services authorities in states.
Set up in every district, UTRCs deliberate and recommend the release of undertrial prisoners as also of those convicts who have undergone the sentence or are entitled to be released due to bail or remission granted to them, it had said.
It had said the state legal services authorities would compile the data received from the UTRCs and send the report to NALSA.
The apex court had also taken on record the standard operating procedure (SOP) prepared by NALSA for UTRCs and said that it be circulated among the Director General (Prisons) and state legal services authority of all the states and union territories.
Prior to this, the court had constituted a three-member committee, headed by Justice Roy to look into jail reforms across India and make recommendations on several aspects, including overcrowding.
It had said the ‘Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms’ would also comprise of Inspector General of Police of Bureau of Police Research and Development and Director General (Prisons) of Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
It had earlier taken strong exception to overcrowding of jails across the country and said prisoners also have human rights and cannot be kept like “animals”.
The court had passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths in jails and on prison reforms across India.