The Uttar Pradesh government seems to have turned a blind eye to the plight of undertrials languishing in the state’s jails. Of the 81,000 inmates in jails across the state, over 55,000 are undertrials. The jails are extremely overcrowded as they are meant to house only 48,298 inmates, including both convicts and undertrials.
Barring the district jails of Lucknow, Kanpur, Jhansi, Gorakhpur and Meerut, all other jails house more inmates than their capacity. This was revealed by the state’s jail department in response to a query filed by RTI activist Urvashi Sharma.
“I had sought details of how many undertrials are still imprisoned in various jails even after completing half of the maximum sentence specified for the crimes they are charged with,” says Sharma. “The government initially refused to share the information, but after I filed an appeal, I was told that details are being gathered from every district jail.”
As per Section 436(A) of the Criminal Procedure Code, an undertrial cannot be incarcerated for a period longer than 50 percent of the maximum sentence specified for the crimes of which they are accused. The law allows them to be released by the court on providing personal bonds.
According to the incomplete information provided by the jail department, there are 22 such prisoners in Gorakhpur, 17 in Bijnor, 11 in Etah, five in Fatehpur, four in Jaunpur, four in Lakhimpur and one in Shahjahanpur district jails.
“The state government is violating the undertrials’ rights by not facilitating their release,” says Sharma. “These are poor people who cannot afford to hire lawyers or arrange surety for the bail bonds. The authorities in every district jail should prepare a list of such inmates every month and display it on the notice board. The lists should also be sent to the district prosecution officers and the state government so that the situation can be constantly monitored.”
Sharma adds that it is the jail administration’s duty to inform such undertrials of the charges against them and the maximum sentence, so that during their appearance in court they can request the judge to order their release on personal bonds without any surety. “The least the administration is expected to do is to inform the undertrials of the status of their case and the mechanism for their release,” she says. “Compliance with Section 436(A) of the CrPC will also help reduce the overcrowding of jails.”
Jail Minister Rajendra Chaudhary, however, denies that the government has any role in the release of undertrials. “The jail administration is doing all that the law demands of it,” claims Chaudhary.
The state government hopes to solve the problem of overcrowding by constructing more jails. “Twelve new jails are under construction and will be ready by the end of 2014 to house another 25,000 inmates,” says Chaudhary.
Sharma points out that in the past three years, the capacity of jails has been increased to house only 3,859 more inmates. “Successive governments in Uttar Pradesh have only made tall claims of jail reforms,” says Sharma. “Overcrowding of jails is the single biggest cause of human rights violations in the state.”
Of the total 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh, only 65 have district jails. In most of the district jails, undertrials form an overwhelming majority of the inmates. Of the total 594 prisoners in the district jail of Ghaziabad — the jail minister’s home district — as many as 532 are undertrials. In Mau district jail, 402 of the 494 inmates are undertrials, and in Balrampur district jail, 243 of the 284 inmates are undertrials.
“Past experience shows us that most of the undertrials will not be convicted in the end. Yet they are left to languish in overcrowded prisons for years just because they are poor. The worst suffering is endured by those who belong to other states like Jammu & Kashmir and are lodged in prisons in Uttar Pradesh on terror charges,” says SR Darapuri, former additional director of police and now a human rights activist.