Respect human rights of jail inmates, says Delhi court


New Delhi : Taking note of the campaign seeking release of Muhammad Haneef, detained in Australia in connection with the failed terror plot in Britain, the Delhi High Court Wednesday pulled up authorities here for being insensitive to prisoners' rights and favoured bail for undertrials not facing serious charges.

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While asking the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to file a report on the matter, a division bench headed by Justice R.S. Sodhi said: "A lot of hue and cry is being raised in the case of Haneef for human rights violations. Are there no human rights for prisoners languishing in jail without sufficient reasons here?"

The court also asked the Delhi government counsel to provide data about the inmates and make efforts to release on bail those who were languishing in jail without trial for years or unable to pay the bail bonds despite getting the bail.

Human rights campaigners were campaigning for Haneef's release but nobody raised an eyebrow for the release of thousands lodged in jails in the capital for years, the court said.

"People accused of committing minor offences are not released on bail. The courts are becoming insensitive. We have become used to prisoners languishing in jail for years. We care only when the issue is highlighted," the bench observed while mentioning that about 13,000 inmates were kept in inhuman conditions in Tihar Jail here.

"Show us a single case where a taxpayer is languishing in jail for petty offences. Most of them are poor people and we are hurting them by not providing a decent life and by putting them in jail," it said.

Last month the court had asked the state government and the Tihar Jail authorities to submit a list by July 25 of prisoners who had been facing trial for charges that can have maximum punishment of seven years.

The court was contemplating relaxation of bail bond conditions so that the undertrials lodged in jails for several years could be released.

However, it cautioned that habitual offenders should be kept out of the list so that no leniency was shown to them.

Subordinate Judge Kamini Lau, who had submitted a probe report before the court, has suggested that more undertrials not involved in heinous crimes should be released on bail.

Tihar Jail houses about 13,000 inmates against a capacity of 6,000. About 80 percent of the inmates are undertrials. The figure is second only to jails in Bihar, where the percentage of undertrials is 82, said the report.

In the second week of June the court had directed the Tihar Jail authorities to release 600 inmates, who were arrested for minor offences like breach of peace and were then not able to provide personal surety for bail.

Shalek Chand Jain, a social worker, in a public suit alleged that deaths in Asia's largest jail have become a routine matter.

The petition filed by counsel Sugriv Dubey had pointed out that at least six inmates had died within a week early last month – apparently due to excessive heat on top of the overcrowding.

While seeking direction to the authorities to improve conditions in jails, the petitioner also asked for the institution of a judicial inquiry to bring to light the causes of the deaths of so many people this summer.