The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prisons to repel, not attract, poor: Minister

Malda, Aug. 25: Law minister Nishith Adhikari today justified the poor conditions in most jails and lock-ups in the state, saying the British-era facilities had been built to deter offenders.

Scoffing at demands for improving conditions in court lock-ups in the wake of the Malda episode, Adhikari said the British had built the facilities “for criminals and not for the common public”. He said if the conditions were “improved”, the prisons would be “flooded” with the poor.

“Don’t forget it is India, where 52 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. This is not America or China,” Adhikari said. “If you turn jails into a decent place to serve time in and provide the inmates with decent meals, they would be inundated with people.”

The minister, who was here to attend a lawyers’ convention, told reporters the British had built the facilities after a “lot” of consideration. “They had built the jails to deter offenders from committing crime again.’’

The minister refused to comment on the death of the two accused in the Malda court lock-up. “It’s an unfortunate incident, but I won’t say anything about it because an investigation is going on.”

Describing the lock-up deaths as an “isolated incident,’’ Adhikari said the mishap could have been caused by a security lapse coupled with a lack of infrastructure.

Adhikari, however, acknowledged that the prisons, mostly built in colonial times, were in desperate need for repair.

He said the Left Front government had been trying to improve infrastructure since coming to power. “Previously, there was no budgetary allocation for the judicial department, but now we do.’’

Adhikari said the government had already set up 45 new court buildings. “Just when things were looking up for the districts, the tragedy dealt our efforts a body blow.”

The minister said the state government would soon do away with the court lock-ups, with the courts being linked to the jails through video conferencing.

He said the government was amending the concerned Act for the purpose. “This will reduce incidents of the accused fleeing on way to court and also cut the state budget.”

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