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Confining Prisoners In Separate Cells For 22 Hours A Day Constitutes Quasi-Solitary Confinement, Violates Article 21: Punjab & Haryana High Court

Aaratrika
3 July 2021 1:34 PM GMT
Confining Prisoners In Separate Cells For 22 Hours A Day Constitutes Quasi-Solitary Confinement, Violates Article 21: Punjab & Haryana High Court
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The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that confining an inmate in a cell for 22 hours a day amounts to quasi-solitary confinement and is violative of his fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. "Except for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, the inmate is all by himself with his solitude and there is no limit on the period for...

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The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that confining an inmate in a cell for 22 hours a day amounts to quasi-solitary confinement and is violative of his fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

"Except for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, the inmate is all by himself with his solitude and there is no limit on the period for which he will be so confined. Such confinement is not strictly solitary confinement but can be called quasi-solitary because the inmate is deprived of human company for extended lengths of time and such confinement has been held to be extremely harsh and violative of basic human rights which remain the entitlement of every prisoner", Justice Sudhir Mittal said.

The Court noted that in the instant case, the Petitioner-prisoner has no company except for the odd prison staff which comes by on rounds; he is not able to see any other human being and he is all by himself with his solitude.

It opined that a balance needs to be maintained between security enforcement and protection of fundamental rights of prisoners. Accordingly, a host of measures were suggested to this effect.

Background

The petitioner had alleged that he was being kept confined in a separate cell for 22 hours a day in the nature of solitary confinement. Further, he was permitted to be released from his cell for only an hour in the afternoon and one hour in the evening every day. It was also averred that he was denied basic amenities available to other prisoners such as facility of private maintenance i.e. provision of food, clothing, bedding and other necessaries through private sources, cooking facilities, adequate food and water, adequate clothing and newspapers, magazines and television.

Such restrictions, he contended, constituted solitary confinement and as such violate his fundamental rights.

State's Submissions

On the other hand, the State submitted that the petitioner was a hardened criminal who has a total of 34 cases registered against him, out of which he has already been convicted in three. Six cases were registered against him while he was in judicial custody. Presently, he is undergoing life sentence for commission of dacoity. Thus, being a notorious criminal, he has the propensity to create riotous situations, it was submitted.

In order to prevent the occurrence of prison violence, security had been beefed up and in consultation with the Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) the aforementioned measures had been taken.

"When, prisoners belonging to the same gang are confined in the same jail, they conspire to commit crimes outside jail and thus, continue with their nefarious activities despite being incarcerated. When prisoners belonging to different gangs are housed in the same prison, it results in riots and disorderly conduct," it was submitted.

Findings

Although the Court applauded certain security measures adopted by prison officials such as increased surveillance through patrolling, CCTV cameras, ensuring that mobile phones cannot be recharged after being smuggled in etc, however the Court cautioned,

"Security measures can be imposed only up to a limit and this limit is placed by Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, which are available even to prisoners."

The Court opined that such stringent measures cannot be justified even on the grounds of maintenance of discipline and order as the personal liberty of a prisoner cannot be curtailed to such an extent that he is reduced to a mere animal existence. Further, such inhumane treatment of inmates completely disregards principles of reformation and rehabilitation which are crucial components in the philosophy of sentencing in a developed society.

In this regard, the Court placed reliance on the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra (II) vs. Delhi Administration and observed,

"It is evident that the letter of law laid down in the path breaking judgments of Sunil Batra (I) and (II) is still to be fully assimilated and implemented. Hope expressed of replacing outdated prison law with more enlightened prescriptions, still remains a hope."

Elucidating the need to strike a balance between threat to security and preservation of civil liberties, the Court put forward the following suggestions,

"The prison administration can surely come up with suggestions which would make the custody conform to the law of the land while meeting the security concerns. For example, the identified prisoners could be housed in separate barracks instead of cells where provision is also made for messing. Members of rival gangs could be confined in different barracks and the system of staggered lockouts could be retained. Confinement to cells be restricted from sunset to sunrise and period of lockouts be increased, however, within the confines of high security zones."

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the petition by reiterating that quasi-solitary confinement is illegal and in violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The matter has been listed for further proceedings on July 19 wherein the State has been directed to apprise the Court on measures intended to be adopted by it.

Case Title: Rajia v. State of Punjab & Ors.

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