On 23 August 2023, the division bench consisting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula in Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee v. State (NCT of Delhi), passed an order to set up a committee while referring to Rule 425 of Delhi Prison Rules, 2018 after receiving a PIL regarding the unsanitary water supply and broken washrooms, their maintenance and overall sanitary welfare of the prisoners. While the subsequent hearing is listed on 18 October, 2023 to discuss the findings of the report, it leaves us to analyze the rights of the prisoners.
In the case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy (2000) 5 SCC 712, the court held that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life with dignity and this right cannot be taken away from any individual in spite of their imprisonment and that this right will always be preserved.
The jail is infected with raging corruption and inhabitable living conditions. It is haunted by drug and liquor peddling, frequent brutality on the prisoners, VIP chambers for comfortable stay of “guests”, homosexual abuse and the lack of ability to accommodate the pre-trail and under trial prisoners.
In 2021, the Standing Committee for Personal, Public Grievances Law and Justice discovered that the Tihar Jail was accommodating 20,000 inmates against its capacity of 10,000. Due to lack of space, they are suffering from inhumane conditions leading to overcrowding, unhygienic habitat, mental health issues and have become a major health concern for senior citizens as it is an added factor in their depleting health.
The jail is also heavily understaffed and is not equipped to deal with the prisoners. These two factors have lead to worries as there is lack of data on the inmates and their requirements and thus raised numerous issues such as the lack of legal aid services to the inmates making them helpless without any remedy or even a chance at trial. Furthermore, prisoners whose bail has been granted are staying in the jail due to the delay in communication of the order.
This has also lead to a rampant increase in violence amongst the inmates. Gang wars have plagued the jail system and there has been nothing done to prevent or stop them. The inmates are indulged in peddling of drugs, alcohol, mobile phones and more with the help of the pay off staff. This infiltration of corruption has had a chief role in the downfall of the jail. There have been several reports of extortion and exploitation of socially and economically weaker by the jailors and the economically well-off individuals.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. The appropriate authorities need to compile data to get informed on the legal, vocational and healthcare needs to the individuals. They need to restructure and reorganize the prisoners to reduce overcrowding, create a space for pre-trial and under-trial prisoners. They need to systematically tackle the problems of corruption, exploitation and violence by establishing a transparent system.