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SC cleaves at Gordian undertrial knot: Release all who've served half charged sentence without trial

In a bold move the Supreme Court today tried begin solving the national undertrial prisoner crisis, by ordering the release of all those in jail for more than half their charged sentence who’ve yet to see a trial.

The bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) RM Lodha ordered all districts’ judicial officers to conduct weekly visits of their jurisdictions’ jails and order the release of all undertrials meeting the criteria. On 8 December, the Supreme Court secretary general would examine the reports on the exercise by registrar generals of each high court, reported IANS.

Update: In reports earlier this month, the government's law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had announced an initiative to also release all undertrials who have served half their potential terms, by creating a database of all prisoners to also ensure that no one would stay in prison longer than their maximum term.

Update-2: The Hindu reported "Justice Joseph pointed out to Mr. Rohatgi that what the government announced this week is already there in the statute book since 2005, but not implemented", referring to Section 436-A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1973. Joseph added: "We are of the considered view that some orders deserve to passed today so that undertrial prisoners do not continue to be detained in prison."

Around 70 per cent of India’s prison population or 300,000 individuals were awaiting trial in 2010 because of judicial delays.

2011’s law minister Veerappa Moily claimed that 700,000 undertrial prisoners had been released in 18 months in a drive to reduce the jail populations.

Press Council of India chairman and ex-Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju also started an NGO in April 2013 to free undertrials with celebrity filmmaker and lawyer support. Katju’s “court of last resort” has not been reported on at all since then.

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