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HC seeks govt, Tihar response on conditions in prisons

“The rules were notified under the jail manual in 1988, for 25 years there has not been a proper visitors’ board,”

New Delhi |
March 6, 2014 2:18:34 am

The court of Acting Chief Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Siddharth Mridul on Wednesday sought responses from the Delhi government and Tihar Jail authorities on three separate PILs relating to conditions in Delhi jails.

In a PIL relating to the problem of juvenile offenders being put into jails meant for adults, the court warned the government that it would “be constrained to take coercive measures” if the government failed to constitute jail visitors boards to keep an eye on the conditions of prisoners. The counsels for the NCPCR and the Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA) informed the court that despite court orders being issued in 2012, the government had not created a visitors’ board but had simply issued guidelines under which the board was expected to work.

“The rules were notified under the jail manual in 1988, for 25 years there has not been a proper visitors’ board,” DLSA Member Secretary SS Rathi said.

The court was also informed that there was an inadequate number of welfare officers to look after prisoners’ welfare. “There are 11 jails in Delhi and only five welfare officers, even though there is supposed to be one officer per jail,” Advocate Anant Asthana said.

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The DLSA had also earlier filed a report on the shortcomings of the welfare system in jails, and the court was informed that no steps have been taken to rectify the problems.

The court gave the government a week to appoint officials and file a detailed reply on the issues raised.

In a separate PIL, the government has been directed to consider changing the rules regarding parole and furlough for undertrials who have remained in jail throughout their trial and did not get bail.

According to advocate Vivek Sood, who had filed the PIL, the current rules did not take into account the time spent in jail as an undertrial to calculate the eligibility for parole. Observing that there was noting “logically wrong” with calculating the time spent in jail as an undertrial, the court asked the government to consider amendment of the rules.

“If an undertrial is incarcerated for five years and then gets convicted, why shouldn’t the time be added to calculate eligibility for parole?” the court asked.

A third PIL was also filed by a lawyer, alleging that a recent change in the rules for visitors to Tihar Jail, had restricted lawyers’ access to their incarcerated clients. Claiming that legal access had been “unlawfully restricted to one legal interview per week”, advocate Amit Sahni had filed the PIL, seeking quashing of a February 2013 order, under which lawyers are no longer allowed to meet with their clients more than once a week. The plea also claims that lawyers were forced to wait for a long time outside the jail while the paperwork for visits was processed, and has sought modernisation of facilities, by giving online applications for the lawyer to visit the jailed client.

“Issue notice to Delhi government and others (including Secretary Home and Director General Prison). An affidavit shall be filed indicating the formalities for the counsel who visit jail,” the court said.

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