The Supreme Court on Friday ordered radical prison reforms, including a direction to states to provide telephone and video conferencing facilities for prisoners to enable them to speak with their lawyers and family members.
The order, issued in the wake of unnatural deaths of prisoners being reported from across the country, directs states to award compensation to families of 551 prisoners who died under mysterious circumstances inside jail between 2012 and 2015.
Asking the Centre and states to display “circumspection” while arresting citizens, a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur said the authorities cannot treat prisoners as chattel and incarcerate them without providing facilities.
“No state government can shirk its duties and responsibilities for providing better facilities to prisoners.
If a state government is unable to do so, it should be far more circumspect in arresting and detaining persons, particularly undertrial prisoners who constitute the vast majority of those in judicial custody,” the bench said, fixing a deadline of December 31, 2017, for compliance of its directives.
SC started hearing the matter related to inhuman conditions in jails after it received a letter in 2016 written by former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti.
It drew the top court’s notice to the increasing number of suicidal deaths in prisons.
The top court said states do not have to oppose every bail application nor ask for remand of every suspect pending investigation. It directed Chief Justices of High Courts to take cognizance of “unnatural deaths” as revealed in the NCRB data, identify the next of kin of the victims and initiate a hearing in public interest to grant suitable compensation unless already awarded.