Overcrowded Prisons Not The Idea Of Punishment: Supreme Court Calls Out Laxity Of States/UTs On Implementation Of Suggestions

Debby Jain

24 April 2024 7:09 AM GMT

  • Overcrowded Prisons Not The Idea Of Punishment: Supreme Court Calls Out Laxity Of States/UTs On Implementation Of Suggestions

    While hearing a matter pertaining to overcrowding in Indian prisons, the Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 23) pulled up States/UTs for not filing their affidavits giving data on jail infrastructure, despite court directions.The bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah gave 2 weeks' time to the Chief Secretaries of the concerned States/UTs, emphasizing that the affidavits shall...

    While hearing a matter pertaining to overcrowding in Indian prisons, the Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 23) pulled up States/UTs for not filing their affidavits giving data on jail infrastructure, despite court directions.

    The bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah gave 2 weeks' time to the Chief Secretaries of the concerned States/UTs, emphasizing that the affidavits shall mention the manner in which recommendations given by the respective Committees are proposed to be implemented and the timelines for such implementation.

    At the outset of the hearing, Justice Amanullah asked Senior Advocate Gaurav Aggarwal, who is acting as Amicus in the matter, whether the Chief Secretaries of States/UTs have filed their affidavits in terms of earlier directions. In response, the Amicus informed that all except Delhi had filed. The explanation for non-filing on behalf of Delhi was that the file had to be sent to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for approval, who is currently in judicial custody over the Delhi Liquor Policy case.

    When Justice Kohli enquired as to who was appearing for Delhi, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati appeared on VC to say that she had been instructed on behalf of the UT. The ASG submitted, "we are in a peculiar situation, your Lordships may give us some more time".

    Pertaining to the issue, the ASG stated that though Delhi has 11 administrative districts, it has only 3 prisons. As such, there is a proposal to have a common Committee look at the infrastructure. If the court permits the said Committee to examine, the UT would be able to file a report within 2 weeks.

    Keeping the matter of Delhi aside, the court proceeded to consider the case of other states, primarily Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Chhattisgarh with respect to which the Amicus had collated data and filed a note, pursuant to the court asking him last week what could be done on immediate basis.

    The selection of the aforesaid 4 states was explained by the Amicus by saying that these states have more than 120-130 jails, where the problem appears to be the highest. He further remarked that the data collected was an eye-opener for the governments. To quote, "First time I think it would have happened...that actually jail wise somebody has gone with the judicial side, administrative side, police side and the DLSA side to examine and they have identified that yes there is overcrowding, whether we can use the premises for construction, whether we need a new construction or not. I think that assessment state government had never done to the best of my recollection".

    Underlining however that there was nothing adversarial about the case, Justice Kohli expressed to the Amicus, "nothing could be more important than the fact that, maybe a person's right to moving around freely is curtailed but doesn't mean he/she has to stay in a place which is so dingy, so difficult, so crowded, in such conditions that the person goes out more ill...That's not the idea of punishment".

    State-wise submissions of the Amicus

    (1) Bihar

    The Amicus informed the Bench that there are 59 jails in Bihar. The Committee constituted by the court had made recommendations regarding central and district jails. In 16 district/central jails, there is overcrowding. In some cases, land is available for new constructions; in others, it is not. The government has filed an affidavit, but not given solutions for the problems.

    Going through the note, Justice Kohli pointed to Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayan (appearing for Bihar) that the recommendations were collated meticulously. "What is the action taken?", the judge asked.

    Flagging a "major" concern, Justice Amanullah noted that District Magistrates (DM) of 3 districts did not attend the relevant meetings and that is why recommendation with respect to land could not be given. "DM is the person who makes recommendation with regard to land...If he has shown disrespect to our order by not attending the meeting and not taking it seriously, then we are going to make party by name", the judge warned.

    Amanullah, J could be heard saying that the court would haul up officers if there is even one more report of non-attendance in future: "you tell the Chief Secretary, on the next date, if one report is there, we are going to make it out as an all-India case. We are going to haul up the DMs right here. If anybody does not attend and any disrespect is shown to the District judge with regard to the Committee, we are going to haul up that officer personally by name. You can't do this".

    Cumulatively, the Bench cautioned that Chief Secretaries of the States/UTs would be personally held responsible for any such conduct. "Don't force us to act suo-motu. The effects will be drastic for everybody", Justice Amanullah said.

    When the bench asked for the minutes of the meeting convened (which would have recorded the DM's non-attendance), a counsel for respondents replied that the matter would be taken up with the Chief Secretaries and DMs.

    Moving on, the Amicus highlighted the infrastructural issues in central jail of Gaya (including sanitation) and submitted, "130 new toilets have to be constructed" besides fulfilling the requirement of "additional doctor requirement in central jail, deputation of 1 male and 1 female teacher for raising level of literacy among prisoners...".

    At this point, Justice Amanullah again called out the Department for the callousness shown in filing the affidavit/report. The judge observed that certain inputs were expected, but were not received. Rather, mere post-office service was exhibited by all Chief Secretaries "sitting in their ivory towers", leaving everything on the shoulders of the court. Justice Kohli supplemented the observation saying that voluntariness has to be shown by the Department.

    Lastly, it was mentioned by the Amicus that facilities for women prisoners were lacking in the jails: "there is no kitchen in women's section...there is no gynecologist for female prisoners...let these be immediately taken up".

    (2) Uttar Pradesh

    The Amicus began by saying that "Uttar Pradesh has a bigger problem". He claimed that there is immense overcrowding in all UP jails and the state has artificially increased the capacity.

    Explaining through example, the Amicus was heard saying, "my capacity is 1000 but actually if you have to accommodate 1000 prisoners...", when Justice Kohli interjected to surmise - "there is no accommodation, but only space". Justice Amanullah put the issue in clearer terms, when he said, "statistically, on paper, you can accommodate but the infrastructure does not match".

    On the Amicus seeking permission to read his note "prima facie" as he was not provided much documents by UP (including the minutes of District Committee meeting), Justice Amanullah pulled up the state counsel present in court (in place of UP AAG Garima Prashad). The judge commented that everything should not be left to the Amicus and that this only showed the government was disinterested.

    Expressing dismay at the affidavit filed by the state, Justice Kohli pitched in that it was not fair to the court, the Amicus, or the system.

    Based on a claim that detention capacity was being shown as increased only by application of mathematical formula, it was prayed by the Amicus that the state be directed to provide minutes of meeting of all 74 jails and explain how the detention capacity is sought to be increased.

    After hearing the Amicus, the bench was of the opinion that State of UP was fudging data and hoodwinking the court. "You have capacity logistic for sleeping and other things only 500, but because the area is said to be 1000, you say 1000. Is that what data you have to give to us? That is misleading. If the state does that to the Supreme Court, we can imagine. Then be prepared and don't say we have overreacted. Be prepared for consequences, they are going to be drastic", Justice Amanullah said.

    At a later stage, Garima Prashad appeared before the court and was asked to explain why the state's affidavit did not say anything about welfare of women and children. Being of the view that the matter was being taken lightly, Justice Kohli asked as to who vetted the affidavit and declared that the affidavit was not acceptable. Apologizing, Prashad sought 3 days' time and submitted that she would enquire into the same.

    (3) Punjab

    The Amicus collated and provided data to the court regarding overcrowding in jails of Punjab and the recommendations thereon. With reference to Central Jail, Patiala, he apprised that several facilities including 4 hospitals, 1 old langar hall, and 39 quarters are in a dilapidated condition and require immediate repair. The Amicus further pointed to the claim of Superintendent of Jail, Patiala before the Committee that sewerage system in all jails is not functioning properly, leading to foul smell.

    On the court's query, it was informed that the capacity of Central Jail, Patiala is 1801, but there are a total of 2221 inmates under detention therein.

    The state was represented by a counsel who was not prepared and submitted that the arguing counsel was held up in another court. The Bench expressed displeasure at the same, saying the case was not a common one, or a private lis, where dates could be given.

    Justice Amanullah could further be heard asking the Amicus to take note of the "alarming" rise of drug addicts in the state, to ensure there are adequate de-addiction centres.

    (4) Chhattisgarh

    At the outset of considering Chhattisgarh's case, Justice Kohli noted that in a jail at Raipur, there were 3180 inmates even though the capacity was of 1586. The judge posed to the counsel appearing for Chhattisgarh that the occupancy stood at double of capacity, yet only administrative approval process is going on.

    In his turn, the Amicus informed that there was no report from the state on the welfare of women and children in jail.


    After hearing the counsels, Justice Kohli dictated the order. The Amicus was given 2 weeks' time to prepare and file a note after perusing the affidavits received by him from 6 other states, ie Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

    Reports/affidavits by the 9 states of Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat were directed to be filed within 2 weeks, with advance copies to the Amicus, if not already filed. The reports shall be sworn by the respective Chief Secretaries. They shall not only collate absence of facilities and recommendations of the Committees on them, but also "the action proposed to be taken in a fixed timeline to address the issues raised".

    With respect to Sikkim, Manipur, Goa, Mizoram, Andaman and Nicobar, Meghalaya, Ladakh, Nagaland and Tripura, as it was informed that prison population of the States/UTs was not very large, the court directed that whatever recommendations were made by the Committees shall be examined by the respective Chief Secretaries and affidavits filed laying down the timeline within which they would be implemented.

    Noting that in some districts, the District Magistrates and Superintendence of Police did not participate in deliberations (despite court directions), the court directed all members who have been appointed to the Committees to participate.

    Insofar as states of Bihar, UP, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, the Chief Secretaries were directed to file affidavits (within 2 weeks) furnishing the milestones within which the recommendations of the Committees shall be implemented, alongwith relevant data.

    At last, it was clarified that wherever reports are awaited, or have been received but implementation of recommendations has not been mentioned, Chief Secretaries shall file additional affidavits furnishing the manner in which the implementation shall be made and the milestones within which the action shall be taken.

    The bench further recorded that there was some "ambiguity" in UP's affidavit, which shall be examined and explained to the Amicus. The matter is next listed on May 14.

    To understand the genesis of the case, click here.

    Case Title: Re-Inhuman Conditions In 1382 Prisons v. Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services and Ors., W.P.(C) No. 406/2013

    Click Here To Read/Download Order

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