Voting Rights of Undertrial Prisoners

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    • Recently, the Supreme Court decided to examine poll law which deprives under trials, civil prison detainees their right to vote.

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    • Section 62(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951:
      • This section mandates that “no person shall vote at any election is he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.
    • The Petition:
      • The petition is challenging a provision in the election law that imposes a blanket ban on under trials, persons confined in civil prisons and convicts serving their sentence in jails from casting their votes.
    • Issue:
      • Comparing with convicts out on bail:
        • While convicts out on bail could vote, under trials, whose innocence or guilt has not been conclusively determined, and those confined in civil persons were deprived of their right to vote.
      • Lack of reasonable classification:
        • The ban lacks reasonable classification based on the nature of the crime or duration of the sentence imposed unlike in countries like South Africa, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, Canada, etc. 
      • Infringement of Fundamental Right:
        • This lack of classification is anathema to the fundamental right to equality under Article 14 (right to equality), the petition pointed out.
      • Large number of population not voting:
        • Petition claims that this provision disenfranchises a large segment of the population of the country.

    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’.
    • NCRB report on undertrial prisoners in India:
      • The latest National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) report of 2021 shows that a total of 5,54,034 prisoners were confined as on December 31, 2021 in various jails across the country.
        • The number of undertrial prisoners has increased from 3,71,848 in 2020 to 4,27,165 in 2021. A hike of 14.9%. 
      • State wise data:
        • Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of undertrials (21.2%, 90,606 undertrials) in the country followed by Bihar (13.9%, 59,577 undertrials) and Maharashtra (7.4%, 31,752 undertrials) at the end of last year.
    • Challenges faced by undertrial prisoners:
      • 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.

    Voting for preventive detainees

    • While prisoners are not allowed to vote, people under preventive detention can cast their votes through postal ballots.
      • Postal voting or ballots:
        • It is also called  Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot Papers (ETPB) and under this ballot papers are distributed electronically to electors and are then returned to the election officers via post.

    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
    • e-Courts 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