Undertrials languishing in jails can be released on personal bonds

Noting that 67 per cent of those lodged in the prisons in the country are undertrials who are too poor to get bail, the Supreme Court has directed the National Legal Services Authority to coordinate with the Union Home Ministry to ensure urgent review of their cases for granting them bail.

A Social Justice Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit has given one month to ensure the functioning of the Undertrial Review Committee in every district in the country.

The committees will now meet on June 30.

Undertrials can be released on bail on personal bonds if they have spent in jail half the maximum period of punishment for the offence they are charged with. The objective of the Undertrial Review Committee in every district in the country is to implement Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows this concession.

The idea of forming the committees, each comprising the District Judge, the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate, came in an advisory issued by the Home Ministry on January 17, 2013. A Social Justice Bench of the Supreme Court has ordered that the committees be revived in one month.

Quoting figures supplied by the Home Ministry, the Bench noted in its recent order: “We find there are a large number of prisoners who are continuing in custody only because of their poverty. This is certainly not in the spirit of the law and poverty cannot be a ground for incarcerating a person.”

The court referred to the prisoners’ management system used in the Tihar Central Jail here, and asked the Union Home Ministry to “study” this application software and suggest modifications for its deployment in prisons throughout the country.

The Home Ministry was asked to direct the Bureau of Police Research and Development to review within three months a model prison manual which was circulated in 2003, keeping in mind the “huge change in circumstances and availability of technology”.