The Delhi High Court Monday directed Tihar Jail authorities to keep in “abeyance” the practice of deducting 25% salary of prisoners for a fund created in August 2006 for welfare of victims or their legal heirs. “The deduction from wages of undertrials and convicts be kept in abeyance till next date of hearing, February 8, 2019,” a bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao said.
Prisoners get paid for doing jobs inside jail, which is voluntarily or part of their punishment.
The court’s interim direction came after it was informed by advocate Ajay Verma that the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), in its affidavit filed through Member Secretary Sanjeev Jain, said a scheme for providing compensation to victims or their dependents has been formulated through Section 357-A of the CrPC.
Following this, the affidavit said the Delhi government notified the Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme of 2011, which contains elaborate provisions for compensating victims or their dependents. This was replaced by the Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme of 2015, which came into effect on December 23, 2016.
The affidavit further said the “objective of deduction from the wages of prisoners was to create a fund for victims of offences, and it may have been regarded as just to avoid the sufferings of victims. Now, in view of the Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme and Fund, the significance of deduction of wages of prisoners is lost… and in any case, the said funds cannot be sufficient to provide due support to the victims”.
“Moreover, the rates of wages which are payable to prisoners shows that they are already on a very low side compared to the minimum wages that are payable in Delhi. Further deduction from the same may not be justified or proper,” the affidavit added.
The DSLSA had filed its response to a petition by advocate Katyayini, challenging the practice of jail authorities deducting 25% of convicts’ wages towards the victim welfare fund. In 1998, the Supreme Court had asked all states to come up with a suitable law for victim welfare and compensation, following which the fund was set up by the jail.
The advocate’s counsel, Verma, also sought to know if jail authorities are legally deducting the amount from prisoners’ wages towards the fund and if it is liable to be refunded.
During the hearing, the Delhi government had told the court that over Rs 15 crore, collected since 2006 from wages of prisoners for the fund, has been lying unutilised.
To which, the DSLSA said that “one alternative could be to transfer the amount to the Victims Compensation Fund, which is maintained by it for disbursing compensation to victims or their dependents, so that the objective with which the Victim Welfare Fund was created could be achieved”.
The DSLSA further suggested that the fund, lying with jail authorities, can even be used for education and welfare of children of the incarcerated parents.