Delhi government today urged the High Court to immediately release all undertrial prisoners who have not committed heinous crimes but were languishing in jail for over six months due to delay in disposal of cases.
The undertrials should not remain in jail because of lack of speedy disposal of their cases, the city government said, adding that prisoners should not suffer due to the "shortcomings" of the legal system.
It however clarified that those prisoners who have allegedly committed heinous crimes like murder, rape, conspiracy to commit rape or dowry death, may not be granted such a relief.
The submissions were made before a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath by advocate Rahul Mehra, who also said Tihar Jail was "overcrowded" as it was housing more than twice the number of inmates it can accommodate.
The court was hearing a matter on the plight of women inmates in the jail, an issue brought to its attention by Supreme Court judge Justice Kurian Joseph in a letter, which was later turned into a PIL.
The court yesterday took suo motu cognisance of the plight of 612 women inmates who have served half their maximum jail term without completion of trial and had agreed to hear the matter, saying "the issue is of great concern."
Delhi government today told the court that instead of confining only to the 612 women inmates, the scope of the PIL should be enlarged to include all other similarly situated male prisoners.
Mehra, representing Delhi Prisons which comes under Home Department of Delhi government, told the court that at present there were nearly 14,000 inmates in Tihar which has a capacity of only around 6,500.
Dharmesh Sharma of Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA) told the court that its legal service clinics were running in each jail of Tihar and periodic visits were made by their lady legal aid lawyers and senior officials.
He also alleged that the data submitted by Delhi prisons was misleading.
The court then sought a report from DLSA indicating steps it has taken on the issue and listed the matter for hearing on July 14, when it said it will also pass a comprehensive order.
It also said that the matter required to be monitored as it did not know whether periodic reports about the condition of the undertrial prisoners was being submitted as per the Supreme Court's direction in 2014.
Justice Kurian Joseph, in his letter, had "earnestly" requested the Chief Justice of the High Court "to take up the matter appropriately so that the cry for justice is answered in accordance with law with the promptitude with which a mother responds to the cry of her child".
He wrote the letter after he received an appeal from the 612 women prisoners, emphasising their "suffering and grievances", including that kids aged six years or more were being kept away from their mothers.
They had also complained of overcrowding in Jail no.6 where they are lodged, delay in disposal of their cases and their non-release on bail if they are unable to fulfil conditions of bail bonds.
The women undertrials, who sought their release on personal bonds, have also alleged lack of sympathy from the courts and doctors in the jail.
The inmates also contended that legal aid available in the jail for female prisoners was not serving its true purpose.
The Supreme Court had in September 2014 mobilised judicial officers across the country to visit every prison in their districts over two months to identify and release undertrial prisoners who had already spent half the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed under the law for offence they had committed.
The apex court had, however, clarified that the relief does not apply to those undertrials whose offence attracts death penalty.
Reports by judicial officers were submitted to the respective High Courts of all states before being forwarded to the Supreme Court.