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Forcing Prisoner's Family To Travel From Mountains To Plains To Meet Prisoners Violates Article 21: U'khand High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
18 Nov 2021 7:53 AM GMT
Forcing Prisoners Family To Travel From Mountains To Plains To Meet Prisoners Violates Article 21: Ukhand High Court
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The Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday observed that forcing the family of a prisoner to travel through the mountainous terrain and to come down to the plains to meet and interact with a relative-prisoner, prima facie, violates fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India of prisoners and their family members.This assertion came from the Bench of Chief...

The Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday observed that forcing the family of a prisoner to travel through the mountainous terrain and to come down to the plains to meet and interact with a relative-prisoner, prima facie, violates fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India of prisoners and their family members.

This assertion came from the Bench of Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma while noting that the Uttarakhand government, on account of overcrowding of jails, has been transferring many inmates from jails situated in mountainous districts to the plain districts

Stressing that it is imperative that a prisoner should be kept as close to his family location as possible, the Court called it 'surprising' that prisoners from Tehri, Chamoli, and Pauri, the mountainous districts of this State, were being transferred to Haridwar and Dehradun by the State Government.

"Generally the prisoners should not be transferred far away from their family. For, it is imperative that the familial relationship should continue between the prisoner and his family despite the fact that the prisoner is incarcerated. The family relationship is essential not only for the emotional support of the prisoner, but also as a means to reform the prisoner, and to motivate him or her to reform him or herself to the extent that he or she can be brought back into the society as a law abiding citizen," the Court remarked.

Essentially, the Court was perusing the affidavits filed by Secretary (Home), and the Inspector General of Prisons, Uttarakhand pursuant to the order of Court, the Court noted that in the entire State of Uttarakhand, there is only one Central Jail and all the other jails are either District Jails or Sub-Jails.

Further, the Court noted that the total capacity in all the jails for keeping inmates is 3540, however, as of April 7, 2021, there are 6499 inmates, including 192 female inmates in the jails.

It is against this backdrop, that the State submitted that due to overcrowding of the jails, it periodically transfers prisoners from one jail to another.

Court's observations 

Having persued the affidavit, the Court observed that despite admitting the fact that jails are overcrowded in Uttarakhand, there is not a single suggestion in the affidavit with regard to the creation of new sets of jails.

The Court also noted that there is no suggestion or recommendation for the construction of a larger jail at Haldwani and even in Pithoragarh, seven crores of rupees were invested for the construction of the jail wall, but even today,  the court noted, Pithoragarh does not have a fully functional and furnished jail.

Significantly, the Court called it 'surprising' that the prisoners in Uttarakhand continue to 5 languish in jail without proper facilities, and without any endeavor to upgrade their skills.

Further, noting that although the State does claim that it has a shortening of sentence policy, which was promulgated on February 09, 2021, the said policy is full of lacunae.

Therefore, the Court opined that even the said policy would need to be re-considered and re-examined by the State. The Court even called the sentence suspension policy of the State as a flawed one.

Therefore, the Court directed the learned Inspector General of Prisons to first visit each of the jails functioning in the State, and to submit a detailed report about the conditions of the jail along with photographs of the jail.

He has also been directed to put forth the vision for improving and reforming the conditions of the jail and to give his opinion on the issue whether, more open air jails should be created within the State, or not.

Lastly, he was directed to convey his vision for improving the entire jail administration, including the jails which may be required for the future needs of the State. The Case has now been listed for December 8, 2021, for further hearing.

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