NEW DELHI, Jan.17: Year 2010 could go down in history as a watershed for undertrial prisoners, who for long have been the silent victims of apathy of the
police, prosecuting agencies, prison authorities and judiciary.
The UPA government is setting a six-month deadline, starting January 26, for the release of 1.25 lakh of the 1.7 lakh undertrials languishing in jail though booked for petty offences and despite having served a major part of the prescribed maximum sentence.
Law minister Veerappa Moily’s mission to set right the state of affairs was reflected in his letter to the chief justices of all high courts, requesting them to do everything possible to facilitate the early release of these prisoners.
The mission for early release of the undertrials languishing in prison will be launched on `Law Day’ on January 26 as part of the comprehensive legal reforms initated by the UPA government, which held an elaborate consultation with the chief justices and chief ministers in August last year.
India has around 1,500 jails having a capacity to lodge 2.5 lakh prisoners. But these house as many as 3.5 lakh inmates. As many as 70% of the jail population comprises undertrials, which means their number could be pegged at 2.45 lakh. As 70% of the undertrial prisoners are booked for petty offences, this category of population in jails would be 1.7 lakh.
"The first target is to get those languishing in jails for years for petty offences and those who have either undergone the maximum punishment or major portion thereof without conviction out of prison by July 31," Moily told TOI from Bangalore.
"I have requested the chief justices of all high courts to instruct the district courts to do everything possible under the Criminal Procedure Code and other laws to ensure that those languishing in prison unnecessarily be forthwith released," he said.
Asked how so many undertrial prisoners could be released within six months, he said there are many ways to achieve the result -- plea bargaining system in which the undertrial accepts guilt and the court records conviction and releases him by sentencing him to the period of imprisonment already undergone, expediting their cases by holding trial on a day-to-day basis, holding court proceedings inside the prison premises or through video-conferencing.