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HC says quasi-solitary confinement of gangsters in Bathinda jail illegal

Observing that “prisoners are human beings despite their liberty having been curtailed”, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, whereas partly permitting the plea of seven gangsters towards solitary confinement at Bathinda jail, has held quasi-solitary confinement to be illegal and violative of the rights assured beneath Article 21 of the Constitution.

The seven gangsters had approached the High Court in March looking for launch from solitary confinement after the Punjab Prisons Department ordered the shifting of 41 prisoners, together with a quantity of gangsters, from varied jails in the state to Bathinda jail to place them in a proposed “communication dead zone” — the place there’s no cell connectivity.

The petitioners, by means of counsels R Kartikeya, Saurav Bhatia, Amjad Khan and Adarsh Priyadarshi, contended that they’ve been denied varied facilities which are obtainable to odd prisoners akin to facility of personal upkeep, i.e., provision of meals, clothes, bedding and different necessaries by means of personal sources, cooking services, satisfactory meals and water, satisfactory clothes and newspapers, magazines and tv. They stated they’re confined to their cells for 22 hours a day and launched just for two hours, which quantities to solitary confinement and the identical violates their basic rights.

In response, the State cited varied critical riot incidents in totally different jails when prisoners belonging to the identical gang had been confined in the identical jail. It stated they conspire to commit crimes outdoors jail and proceed with their nefarious actions regardless of being incarcerated. When prisoners belonging to totally different gangs are housed in the identical jail, it outcomes in riots and disorderly conduct, the State argued.

It stated the matter was given critical consideration and in an order dated December 23, 2020 by the ADGP (Prisons), authorities had been directed to make sure prisoners confined in excessive safety zones be launched from their cells for 2 hours in the course of the day (one hour in the morning and one hour in the night), aside from elevated safety measures like fixed patrolling and rotation of personnel. These instructions had been issued in train of powers conferred by para 515 of the Punjab Jail Manual, 1996, and they aren’t being denied the assorted services as has been alleged in the petition, the state informed the courtroom.

The bench of Justice Sudhir Mittal, after listening to the contentions, stated it was evident that the matter of jail safety and self-discipline has been partaking state officers on the highest stage.

“…Measures such as making jail premises inaccessible to wanderers, provision of adequate measures to secure prisons from external intrusion, creation of communication dead zones, installation of electronic equipment like jammers, security measures in tiers and increased surveillance through patrolling, CCTV cameras etc. need to be commended. Steps taken to ensure that mobile phones cannot be recharged after being smuggled in, also need to be commended. However, although general directions have been given to Jail Superintendents to review measures so that mobile phones are not smuggled into high security zones, no information has been provided regarding steps taken/to be taken against jail personnel who facilitate such smuggling… Security measures can be imposed only up to a limit and this limit is placed by Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, which are available even to prisoners,” Justice Mittal stated.

“Simultaneously, strict measures need to be adopted against jail personnel so that those guilty of aiding the criminals are punished in an exemplary manner. Such steps, based on available information, appear to be lacking in their quest for improving jail discipline and making prisons crime free. Instead, the authorities have gone overboard and have violated valuable Fundamental Rights of the prisoners. Intention behind the act is immaterial as the act fails the test of reasonableness,” learn the order by Justice Mittal.

Justice Mittal added, “Court process restricts the liberty of prisoners but the same courts also have the duty to monitor that the liberty is not restricted beyond the bounds of law. While doing so, the Courts do not become administrators of prisons, but act as the guardians of fundamental rights to which even a prisoner is entitled.”

Justice Mittal, after going by the contentions positioned on document, stated, “On one hand lies the danger of continuing crime and jail violence, and on the other hand lies the demand of human rights and constitutional rights. The action of confinement of individual prisoners in individual cells for most part of the day and for limitless periods is impermissible and has been held so. However, the result of such a direction would be the immediate release of notorious/hardened/dangerous criminals into ordinary prison life which may be a recipe for disaster. The threat held out by the actions of such desperate persons is real and cannot be ignored. The prison administration has already taken steps to make the areas of confinement communication dead zones and has beefed up security. Electronic means of surveillance and of suppressing communication of any sort have also been employed. Therefore, I see no reason to fear the petitioner and other similar prisoners to the extent of depriving them of their basic rights.”

“Confinement to cells be restricted from sunset to sunrise and period of lockouts be increased, however, within the confines of high security zones. The final decision of course, would rest with the prison administration, but is always open to judicial scrutiny,” stated Justice Mittal in the order.

The matter, in the meantime, has been adjourned until July 19 by the HC. The State of Punjab has been requested to apprise the courtroom of measures meant to be adopted.

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