All undertrial prisoners, who have remained in jail for over six months, could be released as the government had “failed” to provide them with a speedy trial, suggested a lawyer for the Delhi government in the High Court on Thursday.
The government was responding to a notice issued by the Delhi High Court, questioning it about the plight of hundreds of women undertrials in Tihar Jail who had spent more than half of their possible sentences waiting for their trial to commence.
Delhi government standing counsel Rahul Mehra, who was representing Delhi Prisons Authority before a bench comprising Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath, told the court that the prisoners should not be penalised for the “failure of the state” to provide speedy trial.
“Depending on the severity of the offence and the discretion of the trial court, they could be released on personal bonds as most of them remain in jail because they cannot afford bail,” Mehra said.
The Delhi government also suggested that the scope of the PIL should be expanded as Tihar Jail, which can accomodate 6,500 prisoners, is “overcrowded” with nearly 14,000 prisoners.
A large number of these inmates are undertrials.
The court had, on Wednesday, taken suo motu cognisance of the issue on a letter sent by Supreme court Judge Justice Kurien Joseph.
Joseph had sent the letter after receiving an appeal from as many as 612 women prisoners, detailing their “suffering and grievances”, including overcrowding in Jail no 6 where they are lodged, delay in disposal of their cases and inability to fulfil the conditions of their bail bonds.
Meanwhile, the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) informed the court that regular inspections of the jail were undertaken by DSLSA panel lawyers. The DSLSA also alleged that the data submitted by Delhi prison authorities was “misleading.” The court directed DSLSA to file a detailed affidavit on the legal process and the status of the prisoners.
The court also indicated that the issue “needs monitoring” as it was unclear whether regular reports regarding the condition of undertrials were being filed according to the directions of the Supreme Court.