SC constitutes committee to look into jail issues, suggest reform measures

The Supreme Court Tuesday constituted a three-member committee headed by its former judge Justice Amitava Roy to look into the aspect of jail reforms across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.

A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur said the panel will look into the issues including over-crowding in prisons.

The committee’s duties will include looking into the problems of jails across the country including overcrowding in prisons, issue of human rights of prisoners and issues concerning women prisoners languishing in cells for years.

After studying the problems, the committee would be required to suggest measures to deal with them.

 Background:

The Supreme Court had said on August 8, 2018, that it would constitute a committee under the chairmanship of its retired judge to look into the problems in jails, on a day-to-day basis and suggest measures to tackle the problems. The SC had expressed its displeasure saying that the government had collected a huge amount under the orders of the apex court but the funds were not being utilized properly.

NHRC figures show that prisoners cut off from family and friends had a 50% more chance of committing suicide than those outside. The average suicide rate among the general public for this period is 11 (per 100,000) whereas the average suicide rate in prison is 16.9 (per 100,000). In other words, the average suicide rate in prisons is over 50% more than in normal conditions.

Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints: overcrowding, thanks to a high percentage of undertrials in the prison population, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is sub-human living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes between the inmates and jail authorities.

Besides, while 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant, almost 36% of vacancy for supervising officers is still unfulfilled. In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.

Way ahead:

Indian jails have often been dubbed as a university for grooming criminals due to pathetic and inhumane conditions. In the absence of a robust Whistleblower Protection Act and structural changes to address the issues of overcrowding and understaffing, India’s prisons will continue to be heaven for politically connected criminals and hell for socio-economically disadvantaged undertrials, some regular media uproars notwithstanding.

Fundamental rights of prisoners cannot be placed in the back-burner and the Centre and the states need to be more pro-active in sensitizing staff about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.

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