On Monday, Delhi High Court directed Tihar Jail authorities to keep in “abeyance” the practice of deducting 25% salary of prisoners for a fund created in August 2006 for the welfare of victims of their crimes or their legal heirs (The Indian Express, December 4).
Convicted prisoners get paid for doing work inside the jail, which can be voluntarily or part of their punishment. These wages are fixed on the basis of their classification — skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled — and the rate are revised periodically.
Remuneration and wages differ from one state to another. As per 2015 prison statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2017, Puducherry provided the highest wages — Rs 180, Rs 160 and Rs 150 per day to skilled convicts, semi-skilled convicts and unskilled convicts respectively. This was followed by Delhi’s Tihar, which gave Rs 171, Rs 138 and Rs 107 respectively. Next were Bihar (Rs 156, Rs 112, Rs 103) and Rajasthan (Rs 150, nil and Rs 130).
At the lower end are Manipur and Mizoram, which paid convicts as little as Rs 12 to Rs 15 per day. West Bengal paid Rs 35 (skilled convicts), Rs 30 (semi-skilled) and Rs 26 (unskilled), while Chhattisgarh paid Rs 30 (skilled) and Rs 26 (unskilled), which was about half as much as the wages paid by Madhya Pradesh at Rs 55 (skilled) and Rs 50 (unskilled).
In 1998, the Supreme Court asked all states to devise a mechanism so that victims of the offence could be compensated (State of Gujarat & Anr vs Gujarat High Court). Prisons in various states made their own rules, with the amount of compensation varying from state to state. Then in 2008, the CrPC was amended with a new Section, 357A, which stipulated that every state should prepare a scheme for compensating crime victims and their dependents.
In the case in Delhi High Court, petitioner Katyayini argued that the Delhi government had made separate provisions for compensation after both the Supreme Court order as well as the CrPC amendment. After the 1998 order, Delhi Prisons Rules were amended in 2006 with Rule 39A allowing for 25% of prisoners’ wages to be deducted and deposited in a Victim Welfare Fund. The government told the court that over Rs 15 crore, collected since 2006 from wages of prisoners for the fund, has been lying unutilised.
Then after the CrPC amendment, the state government notified the Delhi Victims’ Compensation Scheme in 2011, replaced with the Delhi Victims’ Compensation Scheme, 2015. In view of the later scheme, the petitioners argued, the significance of deducting wages for compensation was lost.