Prison Conditions Case Study
(From PUCL Bulletin, Nov 1981)
Jails in India: An investigation
Case Study: Tihar, Delhi
Case Study: Arrah, Bihar
On behalf of the Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAG) in Bihar, Jawaharlal Sharma moved a writ petition in the Supreme Court last year against the Superintendent of Sakehi jail and the Government of Bihar about the overcrowding and inhuman conditions of Sakchi jail in Jamshedpur.
The capacity of the Sakchi jail is 135 prisoners, 126 male and 9 female. But in complete disregard of the sanctioned strength, 800 to 900 male prisoners are kept in jail throughout the year in eight rooms which are approximately 10 feet by 15 feet and in 19 cells measuring about 6 feet by 8 feet. One cell is supposed to house only one male prisoner. However, about six male prisoners are kept in each.
On an average, 30 to 50 women prisoners are kept in one room measuring about 10 feet by 12 feet. Simi-larly only one cell for the female prisoners, 6 feet by 10 feet, is provided in which about 10 are normally housed.
There are only eight water taps and 18 latrines for male prisoners and only one water tap and two latrines for female prisoners. Out of the eight rooms suppo-sed to be allocated to the male prisoners, one room is used as a hospital but with no facility for beds. Nor are there any fans or exhaust fans in any rooms or cells of the jail.
In fact, during riots or an agitation, the population of Sakchi jail increases up to 1900 to 2000 prisoners. All the additional prisoners are kept in the same rooms.
Moreover, there is no remand home in Jamshedpur; any child who is arrested is kept with hardened crimi-nals. Neither is there a children's court.
The petitioner, Jawaharlal Sharma, submitted to the Court that the inhuman overcrowding of Sakchi jail contravened Article 21 of the Constitution. The depri-vation of personal liberty of the prisoners was not according to procedure established by law because the number of prisoners housed in the jail was many times more than the sanctioned capacity. The petitioner maintained that the detention of prisoners in Sakchi jail was degrading, inhuman and contrary to accepted norms of a civilized society.
Even though they were not entitled to the funda-mental rights to the extent possessed by other free citizens of this country, to treat them like herds of cattle was to deprive them of liberty as spelled out in Article 21 of the Constitution.
Moreover, the detention of an unduly large number of prisoner in the jail was in violation of its sanctio-ned capacity and therefore flouted Article 14 of the Constitution. The petitioner submitted that in Hira Lal Malik versus State of Bihar case, the court had held that it had the power and the duty to supervise the detention of a prisoner.
The court had then ruled, "No traditional judicial hands-off doctrine nor prison department's Monroe doctorine can dissuade or disentitle this court from issuing directives, consistently with law, for the purpose of compelling the institutional confinement to the spirit and standards of the fundamental rights which belong to the man walled off. We cannot, in all conscience, order him to be shut up and forget about him. The brooding presence of judicial vigilance is the institutio-nal price of prison justice."
The Supreme Court directed the Government to look into the grievances expressed by Jawaharlal Sharma on behalf of the prisoners and "take expeditious mea-sures for reducing congestion in Sakchi jail."
Though a year has passed and though the Free Legal Aid Committee has also submitted a memoran-dum to the State Jail Minister about the Supreme Court's decision, hardly any action has been taken by the authorities.
Jawaharlal Sharma has urged the Supreme Court once again to take strong steps so that the Government of Bihar could be asked to speed up the matter.
Sharma, whose group has been working for the human rights of prisoners detained in Bihar jails for the last four years, criticised the functioning of what he has termed the "jail industry". There are four partners in this industry jail authorities and staff, policemen, judicial officers and unscrupulous advocates.
The jail authorities and staff, he pointed out, do not want a reduction in the number of prisoners. The more the number of prisoners, the more the rations sanctio-ned by the Government to which they can help themselves, the greater the opportunity of extorting money from them and their relations, the more the quantity of medicines sanctioned which they can sell. The staff therefore makes not a little amount of money from the jail industry. So, for that matter, do many policemen, judicial officers and dishonest advocates.
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