Saturday, January 23, 2010

Justice is coming for undertrials, if intentions are to be realized!

UPA govt and Law minister Moily has recently made the mother of all promises, i.e., to get 75% of undertrials out of prison by 31st Jul 2010.

Excerpts from the news:

The UPA government is setting a six-month deadline, starting January 26, for the release of 1.25 lakh of the 1.7 lakh undertrials languishing in jail though booked for petty offences and despite having served a major part of the prescribed maximum sentence.

Comments: It is interesting why no govt before thought of an easy solution like this.

Further, some statistics on population in jails and that of undertrials:

India has around 1,500 jails having a capacity to lodge 2.5 lakh prisoners. But these house as many as 3.5 lakh inmates. As many as 70% of the jail population comprises undertrials, which means their number could be pegged at 2.45 lakh. As 70% of the undertrial prisoners are booked for petty offences, this category of population in jails would be 1.7 lakh.


"I have requested the chief justices of all high courts to instruct the district courts to do everything possible under the Criminal Procedure Code and other laws to ensure that those languishing in prison unnecessarily be forthwith released," he said.

Comments: Nice intentions. It is moot point how the courts which are said to be overburdened with cases will handle these new cases. Read here about lack of judges in high courts.

Asked how so many undertrial prisoners could be released within six months, he said there are many ways to achieve the result -- plea bargaining system in which the undertrial accepts guilt and the court records conviction and releases him by sentencing him to the period of imprisonment already undergone, expediting their cases by holding trial on a day-to-day basis, holding court proceedings inside the prison premises or through video-conferencing.

Comments: Plea bargaining has been there on paper since CrPC amendments of 2005, notified in 2006. It is not so simple that you ask a prisoner to agree to a lesser charge etc, and if he agrees, and court also says yes; then everybody is happy and they go home. Under Sec 265C of CrPC, specific guidelines have to be followed for plea bargaining in which public prosecutor, accused, victim, and courts are involved. So a defined court process is inovlved here too.

About expediting trials on day-to-day basis, that is like asking a wish from genie in the bottle. If that could be done, then what is currently stopping courts from having day to day trials?

To ensure that there is no hitch from the government side, the law minister has divided the country into various zones and put an additional solicitor general in charge of each to see that the first actual legal reform by way of releasing undertrials becomes successful.

"Guidance to the ASGs would come from attorney-general G E Vahanvati and solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam," Moily said.

Comments: All of the said measures like writing to chief justices, ASG, dividing into zones, and so on smack of a high-level approach handed from top levels of govt and judiciary to levels below. There is no clarity on how the lower courts, police, prosecutors will be involved in such a massive undertaking. Till that happens, it can be treated more like a nice wish of the UPA govt and law ministry.

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