Provide relief in cases of unnatural jail death, says SC

Provide relief in cases of unnatural jail death, says SC”

The court observed that unless the state changes its mindset and takes steps to give meaning to life and liberty of every prisoner, jail reforms could never be effective.

The Supreme court also said that the Central and the State governments need to understand that the criminals can not be treated as chattel and they need to practice the true meaning of the Fundamental Right to life and liberty postulated by Article 21 of the Constitution (guaranteeing the right to life and liberty).

"The constitutional courts can go on delivering judgment after judgment on this issue and award compensation, but unless the state realises that custodial death is itself a crime and monetary compensation is not necessarily the only appropriate relief that can be granted to the next of kin of the deceased, such unnatural deaths will continue unabated", the bench said.

The top court said states do not have to oppose every bail application nor ask for remand of every suspect pending investigation.

"The unnatural death of any child in need of care and protection or in conflict with law and in a child care institution needs attention since it is these voiceless children who need to be heard", the bench said.

"But it is important for the central government and state governments to realise that persons who suffer an unnatural death in a prison are also victims - sometimes of a crime and sometimes of negligence and apathy or both", it said.

Relying on National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data between 2012 to 2015, a bench of justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta passed a slew of directions on jail reforms and directed all states to appoint counselors and support persons for counselling prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the high courts across the country to register suo motu PILs to identify and compensate the next of kin of the prisoners who died an unnatural death while custody during 2012 to 2015 or even later as even prison inmates have a right to live with dignity.

"This is distressing. The pain and anguish of the next of kin of children who pass away in custody is not less, but more than the pain and anguish of the next of kin of any prisoner who suffers an unnatural death in custody", the court said, adding that "it seems that apart from being voiceless, such children are also dispensable".

The court asked the states not to shirk from its responsibilities.

The Supreme Court also said to explore the possibility of using phones and video conferencing for communications not only between a prisoner and family members of that prisoner, but also between a prisoner and the lawyer, whether appointed through the state legal services authority or otherwise. The bench also referred the adoption of the Mandela rules on minimum treatment of prisoners, which is even followed by the UN General Assembly.

"All that we can say in this regard is that while the Central Government may have noble intentions and is perhaps taking steps to improve prison administration and to bring about reforms in prisons, the fact remains that conditions in prisons leave a lot to be desired and there are quite a few unnatural deaths in prisons", it said.

According to the reports of the National Human Rights Commission of India, the prisoners who are totally cut off from the outside world and family members have 50 % more chances of committing suicide compared to others.

It asked the states to conduct a study on overall conditions in jails and the facilities available. Amicus Curiae advocate Gaurav Agarwal had suggested that states must be encouraged to establish open jails.

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