SC to set up committee headed by its ex-judge on prison reforms

New Delhi: The Supreme Court said it would set up a committee headed by one of its retired judges to look into various problems in prisons across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.

While hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions in 1,382 prisons across India, a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said a committee should be constituted to look into the issue on a day-to-day basis and suggest measures to tackle the problems since it includes the issue of human rights of prisoners in jails.

It referred to the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, headed by former apex court judge Justice K S Radhakrishnan, and said this panel had done outstanding work on the matter.

“They (Justice Radhakrishnan committee) have done a lot of good work with respect to issue of road safety and what measures should be taken. In the case of prisons, there are 2-3 major problems. Women prisoners are a huge problem,” the bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, said.

The apex court said the committee for prison reforms would also have two or three officials from the Centre to look into the issues.

During the hearing, the bench referred to the recent incidents of sexual abuse and rape of girls in shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Attorney General K K Venugopal, while agreeing with the court’s suggestion on setting up a committee for jail reforms, said the instances of sexual abuse in shelter homes was “unimaginable”.

He referred to a recent statement by Union Minister for Women and Child Development and said that several steps were being taken in this regard.

The bench said the apex court was concerned with overcrowding in jails, women prisoners languishing there, children who have to live in jail with their jailed mothers up to the age of six and the undertrial prisoners who have got bail but are unable to furnish surety.

Venugopal said the minister has asked the states to have a single large facility for such children and women so that they could be housed at one place, which would help in curbing the incidents of sexual abuse at shelter homes run by NGOs.

He said the Ministry of Home Affairs was also taking steps in this regard and a policy would be framed within four weeks.

“We are on a slightly different issue. What you are saying deals with the cases like in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. We are looking at prisons and children and women there. This can go on independently. Look at this issue from a different perspective. There are issues of undertrial prisoners not being released from jails,” the bench told Venugopal.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni told the bench that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has suggested that undertrial prisoners should be released faster from the jail.

He said the ministry has suggested that in case of women under trial prisoners, they should be released if she has served one-third of the jail term prescribed for the offences.

Nadkarni said that there should be better accomodation facilities in jails for women, who give birth inside the prison, for at least a year from the date of the birth.

The apex court told the Centre as well as the advocate assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, to suggest names of such officials for the committee who have worked for prison reforms.

The bench fixed the matter for hearing on 17 August. The apex court had on 5 August expressed displeasure that several states had not yet appointed the board of visitors who regularly inspect prisons to ensure that they are being run in accordance with rules.

It had taken strong exception to overcrowded jails across the country and said prisoners also have human rights and cannot be kept in jail like “animals”.

It had earlier passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths in jails and on prison reforms across India.