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Rules on Jail Visitors Board face stiff objection

The Delhi government standing counsel Zubeda Begum, however, argued that the visitors panel had “lost its relevance”.

Written by Aneesha Mathur | New Delhi | Published: July 2, 2014 1:20:13 am

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed the Delhi government to submit copies of the Delhi Prisons Act, 1988, as well as the old and new rules framed by it regarding a Jail Visiters’ Board in the capital, after a number of PILs raised objections the rules governing the watchdog body.

Last year, the Delhi High Court directed the government to create a Jail Visitors Board — a watchdog body mandated under the Delhi Prisons Act, 1988, to keep an eye on condition of prisoners in jail — after a number of PILs were filed regarding problems in jails.

In May 2014, the Delhi government notified the Jail Visitors Panel and rules governing the body. The panel of visitors, including a panel of officials and a separate panel of non-officials from NGOs and other organisations, was created in March this year, and rules regarding the panel were notified in May.

However, during the hearing before the court of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice R S Endlaw on Tuesday, objections were raised against the notified rules.

“The Panel has been constituted under rules which were created for the Delhi Prisons Act, 1988. However, the Act was modified in 2000, and the government created fresh rules in May this year,” Advocate Colin Gonsalves of Human Rights Law Network and Advocate Anant Asthana said.

Another objection raised was regarding the fact that jail superintendents are members of the “official” visitors’ panel. In fact, the government notification names the Director General of Prisons, DIG (Prisons) of the Delhi Police and Superintendents of all jails as members of the official visitors panel.

“The panel is supposed to keep an eye on the conditions of prisoners in jail. If superintendents themselves are members, who will point out the problems?” Asthana said.

The Delhi government standing counsel Zubeda Begum, however, argued that the visitors panel had “lost its relevance”. “There is also constant supervision through weekly visits by judges of district courts and weekly reports on prisons by jail superintendents,” she said.

The advocates also told the court that the new rules restrict the panel from making any comments or complaints on the conduct of prison staff in the “visitors’ book” kept in the jail.

Taking note of the objections, the High Court bench said, “We will have to see if there was any inconsistency.”

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