BENGALURU: Vasanth Chaubey (name changed), a 27 year old from West Bengal, has been working and living in Bengaluru for the last nine years. However, a number of events in 2015 would turn his life upside down and expose him to grave failures in the prison and judicial system of the country.
“My relative had been involved in a murder case. He had made calls to me during this time. I was not even involved in the crime and did not know where he was. But the police detained me and, after four days, booked me in a case under section 301 and 201 of the IPC,” he says. While section 301 deals with culpable homicide, section 201 relates to causing disappearance of evidence or giving false evidence.
Vasanth was lodged in Parappana Agrahara as an undertrial for seven months and five days. “My dates for a hearing in court were postponed three times for various reasons, one of them was the lack of police escorts,” adds Vasanth.
According to an Amnesty International study, ‘Justice Under Trial: A Study of Pre-trial Detention in India’, as many as 2,490 undertrials lodged across Karnataka prisons, on an average per month, could not be produced in courts due to the shortage of police escorts.
26-year-old Yousef Khalif (name changed) was lodged in Parappana Agrahara as an undertrial for a year in a cheating case. Yousef says that the time spent there, from March last year, was nothing short of hell.
“I am a BSc gradaute and was working in a pharma company. In the one year I was in jail I was produced in court only twice. Why does it take so long for an innocent person to be free,” he says
No Police escorts in Bengaluru
A 2010 study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a London based non-profit, points out that while the problem of non-availability of escorts is a major problem across the country, it is “grave” in Karnataka and assumes even “graver proportions” in Bengaluru. Called,’Conditions of Detention in the Prisons of Karnataka’ the study points out the woeful conditions in the largest prison in the country, Parapanna Agrahara. It highlights how in 2010, the escort requirements of the prison had to be met from the 5,000 police personnel of the City Armed Reserve (CAR). Before 2001, when the prison strength was around 2,100, CAR allocated just 60 constables for escort duty. In August 1999 alone, inmates missed 5,909 court hearings.
In prison, an accused needs to be produced before the court once a fortnight for a progress review of the case and record requests made for extended detention. According to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) - section 67 (2) and (2)b - the maximum period a person can be in remand detention is for 15 days, authorised by the magistrate who will extend this period in the presence of the prisoner.
According to figures of the National Crime Record Bureau 2015-2016, there are as many as 7,829 undertrials lodged in 27 prisons throughout the state. Indian has one of the largest undertrial population in the world at 67 per cent of its total prisoners. In USA, it is only around 20 per cent of the prison population.