‘India has one of highest undertrial populations’

Indian jails have one of the highest undertrial populations in the world, a new report has said as it claimed that central and state governments have failed to respect their fair trial rights.

The study ‘Justice Under Trial: A Study of Pre-Trial Detention in India’ by Amnesty International India said the country’s undertrial population is estimated to be the 18th highest in the world and the third highest in Asia.

Jail

“India has one of the highest undertrial populations in the world. As of December 2015, 67% of prisoners in India’s prisons were undertrials – people who were awaiting trial or whose trials were still ongoing, and who have not been convicted. In other words, there are twice as many undertrials in India’s prisons as there are convicts,” the report said.

In contrast in the US, which is estimated to have the highest incarceration rate in the world, only 20% of prisoners are undertrials, the report said.

Noting that safeguards under law to protect undertrials are regularly ignored across the country, It said “few prisons appear to know how to accurately determine which undertrials are eligible for release under section 436A. Legal aid lawyers do not

visit prisons regularly. A shortage of police escorts leads to thousands of undertrials not being produced in court for their hearings, effectively prolonging their detentions.”

Another contradiction highlighted by the report is the disproportionate number of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis among undertrials. “About 53% of undertrials are from these communities, which make up 39% share of the population of India. 29% of undertrials are not formally literate, while 42% had not completed secondary education. A quarter of all undertrials have been in prison for more than a year,” it said.

Most prisons in India are overcrowded, partly as a result of excessive undertrial detention. The average occupancy rate in

Indian prisons is 114%, and is as high as 233.9% in states such as Chhattisgarh, it said quoting a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report.

“The overuse of undertrial detention effectively ends up punishing people before they are convicted, and makes a mockery of their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Prolonged undertrial detention can also increase the risk of torture or other ill-treatment,” it said.

It claimed that the state and central governments have “failed to respect” the fair trial rights of undertrial prisoners. Successive governments have acknowledged the problem of excessive undertrial detention, but “have not done enough” to address it.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 14, 2017)

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