Chief justices told to expedite trial of undertrials

New Delhi, Nov 28 (PTI) Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said in Rajya Sabha that he has appealed to chief justices of all 25 high courts to ensure expeditious trial and release of undertrials who have completed 50 per cent of their proposed sentence.

Release of undertrial prisoners is part of the reform process of jails to lessen the load, he said during Question Hour.

As per the India Justice Report 2019 by Tata Trusts, 67.7 per cent India's prison population comprised undertrials in 2016.

Replying to a supplementary, the Law Minister said: 'Those who have completed more than 50 per cent of their status as an undertrial in jail, they must be released if they are not serious offenders in many more cases. I have been to all chief justices of high courts of India...the Home Ministry is doing, I am making an appeal ...As far as release on bail is concerned that can be done only and only by judiciary.' Stressing that undertrials are a matter of priority for the government, he reiterated that the law of the land is that if an undertrial has completed 50 per cent of time as an undertrial of the proposed sentence, he is entitled to be released.

He also laid down stress on the need for expeditious trial of cases.

Prasad said there are undertrial review committees headed by district judges in all districts of India.

'They have prepared a standard operating procedure,' he said.

On the issue of doing away with bail bonds, the minister said, 'If there is no bond per se and if any one runs away from trial what is other way out. it is a complicated issue ... it is a sensitive issue.' In reply to a supplementary on women prisoners with children, the minister said it was basically a human issue.

'The child of a woman prisoner is not at all accused of an offence. But the child cannot stay without the mother. I have examined this issue. This is a big dilemma...How can one leave the child in jail and how the child can live without mother. Society has to find an answer to this,' he said.

The minister said as per National Crime Records Bureau 4.50 lakh prisoners were lodged in jails as against the total capacity of 3.91 lakh capacity, which is an occupancy rate of 115.1 per cent.

As far as management of prisons was concerned, it was the responsibility of state governments, he said and added that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued advisories to States and UTs on steps to be taken by them for providing free legal aid to undertrials and for setting up Lok Adalats/Special courts.

A total of 4.05 lakh persons in custody were provided free legal services under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 since 2017-18 till August 2019, he said.

Besides, NALSA has prepared guidelines in the form of 'Standard Operating Procedure' (SOP) for Undertiral Review Committees and the SOP has been circulated to all states and union territories on February 18 this year, he said. PTI NAM DV DV