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700,000 prisoners-waiting-for-trial released in 18 months, claims Moily

Finding keys that were thrown away
Finding keys that were thrown away

Over 7 lakh undertrial prisoners have been released in the last year-and-a-half following a joint initiative by the government and High Courts of India, according to law minister Veerappa Moily, seeking to reduce prison populations.

In a letter to the chief justices of all high courts, Moily said that over 562,000 undertrial prisoners were released on bail between 26 January 2010 and 31 May 2011 out of a total of one million prisoners who have not yet been convicted.

In addition 77,490 undertrials’ cases were discharged while only 68,744 were convicted in the same period.

“Many may not count it as a legal reform but, it will go a long way in providing breathing space in overcrowded prisons and upholding the human rights of poor people,” said Moily according to the Times of India.

Moily further urged the subordinate judiciary to use the video-conferencing facilities available in various prisons and district courts to expedite the process of the trial and to grant speedy bail.

In his letter he urged all chief justices to further “step up the programme” for fully implementing this initiative.

Since 1979 speedy trial has been held to be included under Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Ministry.

India’s high courts have at times reaffirmed the principle in public interest litigations (PILs) by granting early bail to those accused of committing “non-serious offences” and ordering good quality legal aid to be made available to the accused.

Nevertheless, according to 2010 Indian government data cited by an Indiana University Maurer School of Law and OP Jindal Global Law School research paper, the number of undertrial prisoners continued to increase between 2007 and 2010. Over a third of undertrial-prisoners was illiterate and a total of 80 per cent had less than a tenth-grade education, and the undertrial population also includes a predominance of minority communities, said the paper.

The paper also cited a conflicting law ministry statement from 2010 that said there were only 300,000 undertrial prisoners in India, as opposed to the one million that Moily has now announced.

Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos

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