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NLU Delhi legal aiders free Tihar undertrial accused of Rs 1,000 theft

Exclusive: Members of NLU Delhi's legal aid committee have won their first release of an undertrial prisoner languishing in Tihar jail for two years for the theft of a Rs 1,000 wallet.

The prisoner, whose name the legal aid committee did not disclose to prevent prejudicing his case that was still sub judice, was accused of stealing a wallet and being a wrongful receiver of stolen goods, with a total alleged value of Rs 1,000.

The accused is a 22-year old man living in Delhi, originally from a village near Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh where his family lives.

However, the accused was kept as an undertrial in Tihar jail because he was unable to furnish the bail amount of Rs 10,000.

NLU Delhi’s legal aid committee convenor Siddharth Garg said that he was ecstatic about the committee's first success in their Tihar jail prison advocacy project.

Garg, together with Subhro Mukherjee, Apoorv Sharma and Anshuman Singh, had argued the matter with special permission from the magistrate. They convinced the magistrate to compound the undertrial’s case after a students arranged for a settlement with the alleged victim, allowing the accused to be released on a surety bond.

“We decided to argue the matter ourselves after it came to our notice that the legal aid lawyers were not taking an interest in the case.” said Garg.

“It is great to actually bring happiness to people who are unnecessarily detained for a long period of time because they are unable to furnish the bail amount.”

The legal aid committee has created a policy to try and secure the release of undertrial prisoners who have been in jail for more than half of the maximum sentence that can be awarded for the offences that they are booked under.

Undertrials can be released under Section 436-A of the CrPc if they have served half of the maximum possible sentence, said Garg, and the committee was attempting to encourage legal aid lawyers and amicus curiae to take an active interest in pending cases.

The committee visits Tihar jail at least four times a month to guide the prisoners in Asia's biggest prison.

At the moment the committee was actively pursuing the cases to release six other undertrial prisoners. Garg added that the project would not have been a success without the support of the college’s vice-chancellor Ranbir Singh, faculty advisors, members of the legal aid committee and 18 student volunteers.

“I would also like to thank the law-officer and DGP of Tihar jail, and DIG Prisons for giving us permission to start this initiative” he added.

Garg said that the successful release of the undertrial had “boosted their confidence” to take up more such projects in the future.

Last week law minister Veerappa Moily announced that 700,000 undertrials had been freed in the past 18 months.

Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos

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