Undertrial Prisoners in India

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    In News

    • The first all-India meet of District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) was inaugurated in New Delhi.
      • During the event, Hon. PM. urged the judiciary to speed up the release of undertrial prisoners by providing them with legal aid.

    Issue of Undertrial Prisoners:

    • Meaning:
      • An undertrial is a person who is currently on trial or who is imprisoned on remand whilst awaiting trial or A person who is on a trial in a court of law. 
      • The 78th Report of Law Commission also includes a person who is in judicial custody on remand during investigation in the definition of an ‘undertrial’.
    • Data on undertrials in India:
      • According to the ‘Prison Statistics India’ report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2020, there were as many as 4,88,511 prison inmates of whom 76%, or 3,71,848, were undertrials.
    • Challenges:
      • The criminal justice delivery system in India saw more than 0.2 million undertrial prisoners being neglected in jail for many years. 
      • In many cases it exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime which they had committed. 
      • There have been cases where the amount of bail is disproportionately high.
    • Reasons:
      • Lack of coordination between the Centre, Judiciary & State Governments
      • Undertrials not having anyone to stand as guarantors nor assets to furnish as bail bonds, led them to continue suffering in prisons. 
      • Grossly inadequate number of judges and prosecutors.

    About the NALSA & DLSAs

    • National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA):
      • It was formed in 1995 under the authority of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987
      • Its purpose is to provide free legal services to eligible candidates, and to organize Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of cases.
    • District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs):
      • There are a total 676 District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) in the country. 
        • DLSAs are headed by the District Judges who acts as Chairman of the authority.
      • Various legal aid and awareness programmes are run by NALSA through DLSAs and State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs).
      • The DLSAs also contribute towards reducing the burden on courts by regulating Lok Adalats conducted by NALSA.
      • DLSAs have been mandated to hold weekly meetings of undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to discuss progress, review additional cases and to discuss further action including filing of bails in high courts and the Supreme Court, if required.

    Suggestions

    • Classification and separation:
      • Undertrial prisoners should be lodged in separate institutions away from convicted prisoners. 
      • There should be proper and scientific classification even among undertrial prisoners to ensure that contamination of first time and petty offenders into full-fledged and hardcore criminals.
    • Proximity to courts:
      • Institutions meant for lodging undertrial prisoners should be as close to the courts as possible.
      • All undertrial prisoners should be effectively produced before the presiding magistrates on the dates of the hearing.
    • Police reforms:
      • Police functions should be separated into investigation and law and order duties and sufficient strength be provided to complete investigations on time and avoid delays.
    • Increasing the number of judges:
      • There should be an immediate increase in the number of judges and magistrates in some reasonable proportion to the general population. 
      • There should be at least 107 judges per million of the Indian population.
    • Violation of any fundamental right:
      • In case of violation of any fundamental right of the prisoner then the state should give adequate compensation to the victim.

    Recent Improvements in the Judicial System

    • Virtual court system: 
      • The regular court proceedings in our Indian courts in such unprecedented times are either being adjourned or have been carried out virtually via video conferencing
    • eCourts portal: 
      • It is a one-stop solution for all stakeholders like the litigants, advocates, government agencies, police, and common citizens
        • This portal is designed in a way that uses multiple languages. 
        • This portal is a consolidation of all the portals across the country.  
    • E-filing: 
      • E-filing, also known as electronic filing, is a facility that provides filing of cases through the internet. 
    • National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG):
      • The statistics of cases pending at the national, state, district and individual court level are now made accessible to the general public, researchers, academicians and the society at large
      • Any individual can access this information by visiting the National Judicial Data Grid portal. 
    • National Service and Tracking of Electronic Process (NSTEP):
      • This is a mechanism that consists of a centralised process service tracking application and a mobile app for the bailiffs. 
      • This is used for quick delivery of summons, notices, processes and the reduction of unreasonable delays in process serving. 
    • e-Sewa Kendra:
      • The e-Sewa Kendra is set up as a one-stop centre for accessing all the facilities provided under the eCourts Project. 
      • It has been set up in high courts and one in the district court of each state on a trial basis. 
      • With these centres, a litigant can acquire information on case status and get judgments and orders passed by the courts. 
    • Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS):
      • The Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS) is an initiative of the e-Committee to transfer data and information between the different pillars of the criminal justice system, like courts, police, jails, juvenile homes and forensic science laboratories seamlessly, from one platform. 

    Source: TH