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Delhi HC Issues Directions To Government In HRLN's PIL Seeking Prison Reforms

Karan Tripathi
17 Sep 2019 2:17 AM GMT
Delhi HC Issues Directions To Government In HRLNs PIL Seeking Prison Reforms
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Delhi High Court issued directions to the Delhi Government while disposing off a series of writ petitions filed by Human Rights Law Network which pertained to the cause of prison reforms in Delhi.

These petitions were moved in response to the custodial death of a prisoner named Santosh Kumar. HRLN had submitted before the court that no compensation has been paid to the deceased's family so far while the Delhi Government's counsel Rahul Mehra claimed that the prisoner had died of natural causes.

In several petitions which were clubbed together for final hearing, HRLN's counsel had argued the following:

  1. Availability of primary healthcare centres, medical examination team, trained medical officers and Independent Monitoring Authority in prisons
  2. Inquiring the custodial deaths that have happened in prisons
  3. Delhi Government should constitute separate committee for seriously sick prisoners
  4. Seriously sick prisoners and prisoners suffering from communicable diseases should be kept in separate wards/cells. If required, they should be treated in outside hospitals
  5. Provide sufficient food and medicines to prisoners as per the National List of Essential Medicines
  6. Directions should be issued to Board of Visitors to efficiently investigate the cases of torture and harassment in prisons
  7. Board of Visitors should be given jail passes and allowed to make surprise visits to the prison without the prior permission of the Superintendent
  8. The committee appointing Board of Visitors should consist of a district judge
  9. Board of Visitors and Non Official Visitors should have members from all walks of life such as NGO workers, social activists, media persons, women, etc.
  10. Independent bodies such as National Human Rights Commission should be there in prisons round the clock and Board of Visitors or Inspecting judges should have access to CCTV footage

In addition to this, HRLN had also demanded more visiting hours for Inspecting Judges, free calls for prisoners to call their family members and lawyers and an Independent Monitoring Authority to overlook the implementation of all these suggestions.

In his reply, GNCTD Counsel Rahul Mehra had submitted that the new Delhi Prison Rules of 2018 already take into account all the suggestions put forward by the Petitioner. Moreover, the new rules contemplate enough provisions that address transparency in the appointing procedure of Board of Visitors. It was also pointed out that as per the new rules, the prior permission of Superintendent is not required for visiting prisons except on holidays.

On the issue raised by HRLN regarding arbitrary classification of prisoners as 'high risk prisoners', Mr Mehra argued that this classification is not arbitrary as the same is laid down under two categories under the new prison rules. Moreover, the new rules also prescribe different mechanisms to deal with the high risk prisoners.

Taking all the submissions into account, the Division Bench of Justice DN Patel and Justice Hari Shankar passed several orders issuing the following directions to the Delhi Government:

  1. Ensure adequate medical staff and doctors on temporary, regular, deportation or contractual basis in prisons within 8 weeks
  2. Constitute Board of Visitors in all prisons within 12 weeks
  3. Follow the directions laid down by the Supreme Court in Sanjay Suri v. Delhi Administration and take adequate care and follow new prison rules in appointing Board of Visitors. Provide BoV with jail passes for surprise visits.
  4. Provide sufficient food and medicines to prisoners as per the National List of Essential Medicines

The court, however, refused the plea to constitute an independent monitoring authority. 'We cannot create an authority over and above the government', the court noted.

On the issue of compensation and CCTV cameras, the court noted that new Prison Rules of 2018 provide sufficient provisions for the same, and in case of any violation, it can be dealt with on an individual basis.

For the petitions dealing with custodial deaths, the court listed the matter for October 15.  

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