Guwahati, Aug. 1: A Gauhati High Court order has come as a ray of hope for undertrial prisoners languishing in jails across the state.
The high court order, issued on Monday, has asked judges of district and sessions courts to expeditiously dispose of cases of undertrial prisoners who had been in custody for more than two years. It also instructed judicial magistrates to quickly dispose of cases of undertrials who have been in custody for over six months.
There are many cases pending trial in the courts where the period of detention of the undertrials have actually overshot the sentence that would have been awarded to them in case of conviction, primarily owing to the slow justice delivery system.
There are also those undertrial prisoners who could not walk out of jail even after being granted bail by court because they could not arrange the surety amount.
The high court was of the view that the number of undertrial prisoners languishing in jail for long periods could only be reduced by disposing of their cases on a priority basis.
The move, if implemented properly, will also reduce overcrowding of prisons in Assam.
According to government records, as on February 15, 2012, overcrowding is a problem in a majority of the jails, as the 30 jails in the state are collectively accommodating 8,135 prisoners against the registered capacity of 7,485.
Among these, there are 291 women prisoners and 35 children living with their imprisoned mothers.
Prominent among the ones battling overcrowding is Guwahati central jail where 825 prisoners are housed against the registered capacity of only 599.
The worst scenario, however, is at Abhayapuri district jail, Biswanath Chariali district jail and Halflong sub-jail where the number of prisoners is more than double the capacity.
An official source said the move is a part of the revised action plan prepared by the high court to achieve “zero pendency” of cases in subordinate courts under its jurisdiction.
Recently, Union law minister Salman Khurshid wrote to chief justices of all high courts in the country asking them to rid the judicial system of old cases.
Under the revised action plan, which is for the period August 1 to December 31 this year, the judges of district, sessions and civil courts were set a target to dispose of at least 50 of the oldest cases pending in their respective files.
“All judicial magistrates were also directed not to pass remand orders (sending an accused to police or judicial custody) mechanically and to ensure speedy investigation of the cases,” the source said. “The judges of the district and sessions court were asked to swiftly dispose of criminal appeals pending for more than one year and criminal revisions pending for more than six months.”
According to the source, the high court had taken a hard look at “cheque bounce” cases under the Negotiable Instruments (NI) Act, since these cases contribute the most in the backlog of cases.
“The courts dealing with NI Act cases were directed to dispose of at least 200 such old pending cases before December 31,” he said.