ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Aberration as the Norm

The number of undertrials in Indian prisons is in violation of existing laws.

To say that India’s 1,135 prisons are overcrowded would be an understatement. But for the government to acknowledge year after year that over 60% of the inmates in these prisons are actually undertrials, people who have not yet been convicted, is a scandal. In New Delhi’s Tihar Jail alone, according to the latest data, 73.5% of the prisoners are undertrials. This situation prevails despite the introduction of Section 463A in the Criminal Procedure Code that entitles any undertrial who has served 50% of the maximum sentence for the crime for which he has been charged, to seek release on a personal bond. In fact, since this amendment, thousands of undertrials have been released across India. Yet the percentage of undertrials remains stubbornly high.

In March the Supreme Court commented on the problem of undertrials languishing in jails. In a matter relating to pending cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, the judges stated, “The laxity with which we throw citizens into prison reflects our lack of appreciation for the tribulation of incarceration; the callousness with which we leave them there reflects our lack of deference for humanity.” Also in March, the union home ministry sent out an advisory to all states and union territories in which it pointed out that “only the poor and indigent” are unable to put up bail and thus continue to be undertrials for long periods. It also acknowledged that “the lack of adequate legal aid and a general lack of awareness about rights of arrestees are principal reasons for the continued detention of individuals accused of bailable offences, where bail is a matter of right and where an order of detention is supposed to be an aberration”.

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