SC imposes costs on states, UTs for not furnishing information

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday imposed cost of Rs.25,000 each on 26 states and seven union territories for not responding to the central government’s communication seeking information on utilisation of funds for providing better and hygienic conditions in jails so that prisoners could lead a life with dignity.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V.Ramana imposed the cost on these states and union territories after it was told that only three states – Maharashtra, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir – have furnished information in response.

Displeased over the cold attitude of the state governments towards the conditions of the prisoners, Justice Lokur said: “Just because some people are criminals or under trials, it does not mean that they would be treated like dirt.”

The court’s observation came as Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Neeraj Kishan Kaul told the court that apart from Maharashtra, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, no other state has replied to the letter.

These states and the UTs have been given three weeks time to respond.

Counsel Gaurav Agrawal who is amicus curiae in the matter told the court that in some states, the overall number of prisoners lodged in the jail may be fine but within the states, there are jails where there is over-crowding.

The court by February 5 direction had had said that the “director general of police/inspector general of police in-charge of prisons should ensure that there is proper and effective utilisation of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is commensurate with human dignity. This also includes the issue of their health, hygiene, food, clothing, rehabilitation etc”.

The directions had come in pursuance to the hearing on the matter that the court had taken up in 2013 following receipt of a letter from former chief justice of India R.C.Lahoti pointing to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons in India.

Besides states not replying to the centre’s communication, the court also took exception to the usage of words, “other causes of (unnatural) death” used in the response filed by the government on the causes of unnatural deaths of prisoners in the prisons.

Asking its meaning and ASG Kaul told the court that he too raised the issue with the officials.

The court also inquired about the compensation in such cases. “What about the compensation. Are you giving compensation (to prisoners who suffer unnatural deaths). Have you asked the states to pay compensation?”

In another matter relating to juvenile justice and also in this, the court chided the National Legal Service Authority for not extending the legal aid to the under trial prisoners.

“For children, you are not giving legal aid. For adults, you are not giving legal aid. What are you doing. Whom are you giving legal aid to,” the court asked.

As NALSA sought more time for developing module for the training of lawyers, Justice Lokur said that they were supposed to complete it by December 31, then sought another three months, but was given time till January end and “now you are again seeking another three months”.

Telling the counsel for NALSA that there were complaints against the body, the bench said: “Your position is ‘You will not let anyone do it, and (you) we will not do it (yourself)’.”

“If you don’t do it by next date, we will ask someone else to do it,” it warned.