Do prisoners have no rights? SC on pathetic condition in prisons
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday pulled up the Centre for the pathetic condition prevailing in jails across the country and wondered whether prisoners were considered as humans "in the eyes of the authorities".
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur also took note of huge vacancies of around 48 per cent in forensic science laboratories (FSL) in India and asked the Centre how it would ensure speedy trial for the undertrials in such a situation.
"This whole thing have been converted into a joke. Do prisoners have no rights? I do not know whether they (prisoners) are considered to be humans in the eyes of the authorities," Justice Lokur observed.
"Tell your officers to go and see (condition in jails). White washing have not been done for years. Taps are not working. Toilets are not working. There are no sewage and the situation is pathetic in jails," the bench, also comprising Justice Deepak Gupta, told the Centre's counsel.
The court was hearing a matter related to deficiencies in jails as highlighted by two apex court judges, one of whom has retired, during their visit to Faridabad jail and an observation home in June this year.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, appearing for the Centre, said the government has received responses from 19 states only about the court's earlier query on whether observation homes, where minors in conflict with law were kept, and juvenile justice boards (JJBs) were equipped with video-conferencing facilities.
The bench observed that in case of minors, provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) were not adhered to and in places such as Guwahati, JJB was situated at quite a long distance from the observation home forcing the authorities and minors to travel long distance.
"Just because they happen to be children, you cannot say that provisions of CrPC will not apply to them. Are children not citizens of this country?" the bench said.
On the issue of vacancies in FSLs across the country, the ASG said a process was underway to fill up the vacancies.
To this, the bench observed, "The process is underway for the past 20 years. In Rajasthan, 50 per cent posts are vacant. In Gujarat, one-third posts are lying vacant. In Bihar, 126 out of 191 posts are vacant."
Lekhi told the court that this reflected a "dismal state of affairs" and the government would deal with this issue.
"These are sanctioned posts so money is not an issue. People are dying in jails. How long are we going to continue like this?" the bench said, adding, "It is total chaos."
An advocate, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, said the issue of vacancies could be dealt with like the top court has been dealing with issues related to filing up of vacancies in higher judiciary by taking five states at one go.
"We are not going to appoint people. Persons who are supposed to do this are not doing it. Forget about judicial vacancies, we are talking about governmental vacancies," Justice Lokur observed.
The court then asked about the functioning of undertrial review committees (UTRCs).
The UTRCs, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail on bail or remission granted to them.