Delhi HC dismisses PIL for release of undertrials due to overcrowding in jails

New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) The Delhi High Court has dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking guidelines for the release of undertrial prisoners in view of overcrowding in jails.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan observed that the issues raised by the petitioner, Gautam Kumar Laha, are already being considered by the Supreme Court and there was no reason to entertain the same.

“We are satisfied that since the issues raised by the Petitioner in the present petition are directly in issue in the W.P.(C) 406/2013 pending before the Supreme Court and are being supervised therein, we find no reason for entertaining the present petition. Accordingly, the present petition is dismissed,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Manmeet PS Arora, in its order dated April 24.

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the PIL was filed for the benefit of undertrials who are languishing in overcrowded jails and prayed that a committee be appointed to hold a meeting at least once every month to decide which inmate can be released for passing of an appropriate order of bail by the court concerned.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, said the issues raised by the petitioner are directly pending before the Supreme Court and he can therefore approach the top court.

He informed that the ‘Standard Operating Procedure for Under-Trial Review Committees’, drafted by NALSA, was taken on record by the Supreme Court in 2018.

In its order, the court noted that the apex court has also taken up the pressing issue of setting up more jails in each state and union territory due to overcrowding and issued directions to each state government to set up a designated committee with a focus on taking steps for setting up new jails, expanding the existing facilities in the jails and providing facilities to inmates through the use of technology.

“Thus, the issue of overcrowding urged in the present petition is also directly under consideration in the pending writ petition before the Supreme Court,” opined the court.

The Delhi government’s standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi said the issue raised by the petitioner is already under consideration and steps are being taken to address it.

He stated that the ad hoc relief which is being prayed for by the present petitioner in the form of an extra-judicial mechanism will further burden this court with “frivolous” petitions.

The petitioner argued that there are three prison complexes in Delhi with a sanctioned inmate strength of 10,026 against which 19,500 prisoners are lodged, as per 2021 data.

He emphasised that undertrial prisoners constitute 83.33 per cent of the total population of Delhi prisons, which is more than the national average.

It was also claimed that the charge-sheeting rate in Delhi was only 31 per cent against the national average of 73 per cent of the total FIRs filed, which prima facie shows that the fundamental rights of these undertrial prisoners are being adversely affected and violated.

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