CRIMINALS OUTSIDE THE JAIL – INNOCENTS INSIDE THE JAIL
Judiciary in Hibernation
Among the inmates in jails if you search and search for the rich and powerful you are most likely to be disappointed. Even if you perchance discover any one belonging to the rich and the powerful you may find him in jail hospitals. Or, you may find him in specially arranged part of the jail. The room may be air-conditioned; even the corridor leading to the room is air-conditioned. If the criminal has been of ministerial rank, state level officials come to consult him with files and take instructions as if the minister is sitting in his chamber in the secretariat.
There are around 1.8 lakh under-trial prisoners (mostly poorest of the poor) in India languishing in jails for more years than the maximum possible years of punishment for the committed crime if proved at all. Taking UP as a representative sample for India, 82% of the under-trial prisoners are likely to be released as innocents. Against this number, we have only 95,000 convicted prisoners in jails. It has been estimated by us that to this number around 500,000 criminals could be easily added who are on/without bail roaming freely in society and intimidating witnesses who often turn hostile out of fear for life. If we could put the 'babus' of the bureaucracy who harass the citizens asking bribes whenever they have to approach them for any work, the number of prisoners in jails could have easily crossed few millions. Human Development Report 2004 points out that around 20% of citizens in Delhi and Mumbai are victims of bribery on one occasion or the other. In contrast, only 0.2% of US citizens experience the same.
When the Britishers left, the ratio of under-trial prisoners and convicts was 1:2 in UP. It is now 7:1. Our 'netas' can be proud of their glorious achievements. They have succeeded that the hapless poor who cannot furnish security money for bail languishes in jails for years and years. That the jails are a veritable hell for the poor under-trials needs no special mention. Many jails are overcrowded beyond imaginations. In Gopalganj, the home constituency of Bihar Chief Minister, there is 650 inmates though the actual capacity is 50. In Gaya sub-jail there are 500 inmates, the capacity being 50. In the constituency of our present Railway Minister (with the ambition to be Prime Minister soon), there are 1300 prisoners against a capacity of just 310 (Times of India, Mumbai, 20/06/02).
Women prisoners are exposed to indignities and obscenities without any limit. Maneka Gandhi, while visiting Sanjay Gandhi lodged in jail soon after the emergency had discovered jail staff earning money by allowing customers from the roadside to fondle women prisoners through the bars of the main gate. Does your blood boil in rage??
Will you mind contributing a few paisa more per liter of fuel for your vehicle if this helps change the scenario? Let us understand how this contribution can very effectively change the Indian Judiciary from a state of defunct to a state of life. We have estimated that by increasing the fuel price by a meager 16 paisa per liter we can remove the arrear of 3.34 crore cases pending in the High Courts and Lower Courts in a time span of just 3 years (assuming that a High Court judge disposes off around 800 main cases in a year as per the established norms and a Lower Court judge disposes off around 300 cases a year). After this 3 year period, the said increase in the price of fuel can be removed. However, an additional cess of only 4 paisa in your fuel budget per liter can ensure that there is no further accumulation of unresolved cases. I am sure that this paltry amount would not pinch the pocket of our countrymen at all. It is an agony for the country that 40% of the allotted High Court judge strength is lying vacant at a time when arrears in High Courts alone is to the extent of 34 lakhs. The nonoccupancy of this is adding to the existing backlogs by 1.5 lakh cases per annum. Justice delayed is not just justice denied, but it is judiciary in hibernation. It's high time that we make policies which help the judiciary to wake up from its long stretch of hibernation.
Thus, the cost of bringing about a speedy and more efficient judicial system in the country is very insignificant. And I am sure that our countrymen would be happy parting with these few paisas for the sake of decriminalization of society. Why then are we not doing the same? Who then are we protecting?
The figures quoted above have been arrived at after in-depth research and discussions with/in various departments such as Supreme Court Bar Association, Supreme Court Library, Registrar's Office (Judicial, SC), Assistant Registrar's Office (Administration, SC),General Administration (SC), Computer Section (SC), Ministry of Law and Justice, etc.
We have assumed that we shall avoid investments on buildings for new courts by utilizing the present premises on two shift basis wherever necessary. The expenditure to be incurred on additional police personnel to follow up the cases effectively in the courts have not been mentioned here because we desire that the personnel employed on excessive protection duty of the so-called VIPs will be released since 'criminals will be mostly in jails'. Similarly, the misuse of police personnel by officers on household duties will be a thing of the past. At the same time, it is worth mentioning that our electoral laws need to be improved so that 'netas' who indulge in crime and rigging could take their well-deserved seats in the prison cells and not in the Parliament and Assemblies.
Let us hope that when the verdict of the cases is available within a reasonable time frame, say within a year, criminals will be afraid of punishment, even if on occasions they get the benefit of the doubt.