Overcrowding of jails in the country has been an often talked about issue. According to the latest available government data (end of 2016), a total of 4,33,003 inmates were lodged in various jails across India, 14 per cent more than the capacity of 3,80,876. Government data also shows that close to 3 lakh or two-thirds of all prisoners are under-trials.
A third of under-trials in UP and Bihar
Government data shows that a total of 2,93,058 under-trials were lodged in jails across India by the end of 2016. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar together account for more than 96,000 of these prisoners – about one-third of all under-trials in the country.
Almost 96 per cent or 2.8 lakh under-trials are male. Among the male under-trials, UP has the most followed by Bihar. Five states have more than 500 women under-trials each.
Why are there so many under-trial prisoners?
There are two major reasons behind such a large number of under-trial prisoners. One of them is the huge pendency of cases and the second and most important reason is the lack of implementation of an existing law.
Section 436 of the Criminal Procedure Code was amended in 2005 to include a new section, 436A. Under Section 436A, an under-trial prisoner (UTP) has the right to seek bail on serving more than half of the maximum possible sentence on a personal bond. No person can be detained in prison as an under-trial for a period exceeding the maximum possible sentence. This provision is, however, not applicable to those who are charged with offences punishable with death.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has noted in many of its advisories that it is only the poor who have not been able to pay for the surety and have continued to languish as under-trials for long periods and that too for minor offences. The lack of adequate legal aid and a general lack of awareness about rights of arrestees are principal reasons behind the continued detention of individuals accused of bailable offences.
Since the guidelines for implementation of Section 436A are not followed properly, the Supreme Court in a related case directed governments in 2014 that the judges concerned should hold one sitting in a week in each jail for two months starting from October 1, 2014, for effective implementation of the section. The case is still pending in court.
What can we do as citizens?
We can use the RTI act to understand what is happening in our respective state. That will at least push the governments to act. We could ask for the following information based on the MHA advisory and Supreme Court directions.