A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justice B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant, making an observation on prison reforms, said it will prioritize issues connected with filling vacancies in prisons across the country and overcrowding of jails.
“We know overcrowding is connected with pendency of cases in courts. That is something we will need to tackle, but we are going to tackle it”, observed the court.
The observation from the top court came during the hearing of a matter relating to inhuman conditions in 1,382 prisons across India. The apex court had taken suo motu cognizance of a letter written in 2013. These prisons house 4.68 lakh inmates instead of sanctioned strength of 3.83 lakh.
The top court observed the jail staff fall behind nearly 30 to 40 per cent against the strength sanctioned, and it will pass direction on the issue.
The court also asked Centre’s counsel Additional Solicitor General A.N.S. Nadkarni, to place before it a mechanism to fill vacancies along with overcrowding highlighted in the report of a committee headed by former apex court judge Justice Amitava Roy. The court said it would pass directions after two weeks.
Citing the shortage of staff, the report said, “This shortage has lingered over the years, for want of timely recruitments and is a major hindrance in the way of the required implementation of several mandatory measures, prescribed by the law as well as the Model Prison Manual 2016, seriously impinging upon the human rights of the prison sector.”
Justice Roy suggested probable directions, which can be passed as remedial measures. The report cites seven states have occupancy at a staggering 150%.
The report highlighted the prison population has increased by 8.2%, from 2016 to 2018, against an increase of 0.7 per cent in the prison sanctioned capacity. National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in 2017 cited the gap in the prisoner holding capacity of the prisons — 3.78 lakh, but the actual number of inmates lodged was 4.19 lakh.
The report to tackle overcrowding suggested use of discretionary powers by he courts and award sentences like “fine and admonition”, instead of sending the accused to jails, and also consider release on probation at pre-trial stage or after wherever it is required.
“The committee feels that there is an urgent need for a high-powered representative body in every state government/UTs to continuously oversee and monitor the needs of the prison department and address the same in time with vigilance and expedition”, suggested the report.