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Relief to undertrials in jails

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of those languishing in jails and awaiting completion of trials and who have served more than half the maximum sentence for the offence they have been charged with. To identify such undertrials, a bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha directed district judges to visit jails once a week during October-November this year.

The district judges are expected to file reports in this regard at the end of November.

Friday’s order pertained to a public interest petition moved in 2005 by lawyer and politician Bhim Singh, who had sought relief for those in a jail in Jammu and Kashmir. The court extended the scope of the petition to all states.

It asked registrars of high courts to collect data from jails and send reports based on these to the registrar-general of the Supreme Court. The court will take up these reports on December 8.

The court also directed the government to come up with a road map to fast-track the criminal judicial system. It expressed regret at the lack of budgetary support for jail infrastructure.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data, of the 385,135 prisoners in India at the end of 2012, undertrials accounted for 66.2 per cent. In states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Meghalaya, undertrials accounted for more than 80 per cent of prison inmates. Most of them see prolonged imprisonment even for petty crimes, as they aren’t able to apply for bail due to ignorance, poverty or abandonment by families.

Though the Criminal Procedure Code had been amended to provide relief to undertrials, the provisions haven’t been implemented yet. Through Friday’s Supreme Court order, the government has been directed to enforce the amended law and judicial officers visiting jails have been asked to release those eligible without further delay.

After analysing the data for the past decade brought before it, the court had, last month, expressed concern over the matter and asked the Centre to convene a meeting of home secretaries of all states to address the issue. The judges had estimated there were more than 31,000 Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste undertrials in the country.

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