11 Aug 2023 12:42 PM GMT
The Calcutta High Court heard a plea alleging that prolonged placement of three under-trial prisoners in a single prison is inhumane an amounts to 'solitary confinement'.In recording the State’s report on the various issues flagged by the petitioners, including inter alia the lack of medical facilities, non-compliance with Supreme Court guidelines on under-trial prisoners, etc., a...
The Calcutta High Court heard a plea alleging that prolonged placement of three under-trial prisoners in a single prison is inhumane an amounts to 'solitary confinement'.
In recording the State’s report on the various issues flagged by the petitioners, including inter alia the lack of medical facilities, non-compliance with Supreme Court guidelines on under-trial prisoners, etc., a single-bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya allowed the petitioners liberty to file an exception to the State’s report, and ordered:
As such, since the petitioners seek to apprise themselves on the contents of the report filed today by the State, and to take an exception thereto, if necessary, the matter is adjourned. The report filed by the State today be kept on record. The exception to the report, if any, shall be filed by the petitioners on the next returnable date, with an advance copy of the same to learned counsel appearing for the State.
The present petition had been moved to highlight the alleged infringement of the petitioners' rights during their custody while under-trial and the ‘inhuman’ conditions they had been allegedly subjected to.
It was submitted by the petitioners that they were co-accused and facing common charges in a case of kidnapping and murder being tried before the ASJ, Hooghly, and accordingly were being kept in Chinsurah District Correctional Home at Hooghly as under-trial prisoners.
It was argued by the petitioners that they were being held in solitary confinement, under conditions, which were unjust and prejudicial to their rights “contrary to the norms of humanity and justice.” To buttress their submissions, the petitioners relied on the Supreme Court’s diktat in Kishor Singh Ravinder Dev v State Of Rajasthan, which held that under-trial prisoners could not suffer a worse fate than convicts.
It was further alleged by the petitioners, that they were restricted from meeting their relatives and Advocates and that on one occasion when one of their mothers and sisters had gone to visit, they were “picked up by the police and dealt with brutally.”
The petitioners argued that they were “suffering from serious medical ailments”, but had been denied any medical attention by the authorities.
Petitioners accordingly prayed to be transferred to a different correctional home under Section 64 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992, due to their current living conditions ‘putting their well-being in danger’ and not being in accordance with established prison laws and regulations. Additionally, petitioners sought protection from potential harm that could arise from their current circumstances and prayed for improvements in their living conditions while in custody.
The State submitted a repot before the Court and argued that the allegations made by the petitioners were wholly incorrect. It was argued that on the issue of visitation, there existed a “day unlock” period every day, during which the petitioners were permitted ‘mingle with other prisoners’, and that since their under-trial incarceration in 2018, there had been at least 40 interviews in which the petitioners had participated.
Counsel for the State submitted that while one of the petitioners had indeed reported a medical ailment, the same had not been considered emergent, or serious, and that no other medical complications had been reported in the immediately preceding medical check-ups held in April 2023 at the District Government Hospital.
On the issue of solitary confinement, it was submitted by the State that all three petitioners had been housed in the same cell, and that as such it could not be considered solitary confinement. For this, Counsel relied on the definition of solitary confinement in various legal dictionaries, and contended that the expression ‘solitary’ could not be attached to confinement.
Additionally, it was also submitted that the number of prisoners in the concerned correctional home was almost double the amount it was designed to house, and due to such over-crowding, the prisoners could not be further segregated since they had to be kept away from members of rival gangs for their own safety.
Counsel for state finally submitted that the petitioners had addressed the aforesaid issues before the Sessions Judge and as such couldn’t be permitted to re-argue them.
In taking note of the report filed by the State, the Court gave liberty to the petitioners to file their exception, and observed that the State had prima facie dealt with the contentions of the petitioners, on the issue of solitary confinement. It observed:
In the present case, it transpires that all the petitioners have been kept together in a particular cell. Hence, the expression ‘solitary’ cannot be appended to their confinement. Even in the judgment cited by learned counsel for the petitioners, the language clearly shows that each of the petitioners were put up in separate cells, which led to the court observing that they were in solitary confinement. However, as opposed to the said case, here the petitioners have been kept together in a particular cell. Moreover, it has been alleged in the report sought to be filed the State that there is “day unlock” period, during which the petitioners have the right to intermingle with other prisoners in the correctional home. That apart, a scope is there for interview between the petitioners’ visitors and the petitioners, as alleged by the State, which has been happening.
However, on the question of medical attention given to the petitioners, the Court was of a different view. It said:
Regarding the allegation of dearth of medical attention, it has been prima facie shown by the State that medical checkups are being done. However, it may be arguable as to whether such scanty medical attention is sufficient to take care of the general well-being of the petitioners, who are under-trials as of now.
Matter has been posted for further hearing on 16th August.
Case: Bishal Das & Ors. Vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors
Coram: Justice Sabysachi Bhattacharya
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