New Delhi: The Supreme Court has expressed concern about overcrowding in prisons across the country, in some cases beyond 150 per cent of the capacity, and asked all the high courts to consider the issue as it involves "violation of human rights". The apex court requested the chief justices of the high courts to take up the matter as a suo-motu (on its own) writ petition and referred to a note given by an advocate, assisting the court as an amicus curiae, in this regard.
"It appears from the note given by amicus curiae that the issue of overcrowding in prisons is not being taken seriously by the prison authorities. There are several prisons where the overcrowding is well beyond 100 per cent and in some cases it exceeds 150 per cent," a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
"In our opinion, this matter should be considered by each high court independently with the assistance of the State Legal Services Authority/High Court Legal Services Committee so that there is some sanity in the overcrowding in prisons since it involves violation of human rights," it said. The bench asked the apex court's secretary general to send a copy of its order to the registrar general of every high court for necessary steps and report back to it.
The apex court also dealt with the issue of vacancy of staff in jails and observed that "little interest" was being shown by the authorities and state governments in recruiting staff in prisons. It asked the chief justice of each high court to also take up this issue as a suo-motu writ petition.
Meanwhile, the Centre informed the bench that the Ministry of Women and Child Development was conducting a study through the National Commission for Women and the National Law University on women prisoners and their children and it would be completed by June 30.
The government said that the ministry would look into the study and take necessary steps within three weeks. The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on August 2.
The Centre also apprised the court that steps were being taken to encourage setting up of 'open prisons' and a model uniform rules for the administration of open correctional institutions have already been framed.
Semi-open prisons or open prisons allow convicts to work outside the jail premises and earn a livelihood and return in the evening.
The concept was brought in to assimilate the convicts with the society and reduce their psychological pressure as they faced lack of confidence in leading normal lives outside.
During the hearing, the amicus informed the apex court that there were 63 open prisons across the country but the existing capacity was not being fully utilised. "We expect the state governments concerned to not only try and utilise the existing capacity of these open prisons and if necessary increase the existing capacity of these open prisons in due course of time. The state governments and Union Territory administrations should also seriously consider the feasibility of establishing open prisons in as many locations as possible," the bench said.
Regarding undertrial review committees, the bench was informed by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) that a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the committee was ready. These committees, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrials and convicts who have undergone their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.
The amicus said that he would look into it and might have some further discussions with the NALSA and the SOP would be finalised by June 30. "As soon as the SOP is finalised, it should be circulated to all the district judges and undertrial review committees for implementation. If and when there are some constraints in the implementation of the SOP, it should be brought to the notice of NALSA so that necessary or corrective measures can be taken," the court said.
The bench was also told that the Bureau of Police Research and Development has prepared some training manuals for prison officers and prison warders. The apex court had earlier taken strong exception to overcrowded jails and said that prisoners also have human rights and they cannot be kept in jail like "animals".
The court, which is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country, had earlier passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths in jails and on prison reforms across India.