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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Just relief: Editorial on SC’s nod to Centre’s proposal of providing financial assistance to poor prisoners seeking bail

The majority of under-trial prisoners are disadvantaged, coming from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minority communities

The Editorial Board Published 28.02.24, 07:36 AM
Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India File Photo

A little over three-quarters of the total number of prisoners in December, 2022 had not faced trial, many of them for years. A solution seems to have arrived with the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the Centre’s standard operating procedure for the release of economically backward under-trial prisoners and convicts past their release date. According to this, the government will reimburse the bail amount up to Rs 40,000 for under-trial prisoners and the fine for convicts up to Rs 25,000 once their economic status is assessed by the committee to be empowered for this task in each district. For higher amounts, the committee will exercise its discretion. Since offences under certain laws as those against corruption, money-laundering, drug-related crimes, sexual abuse of children or under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act will not receive this relief, the amounts appear to be reasonable. What seems implied, however, is that anyone detained for or charged with these offences can be imprisoned without trial for an indeterminate period, since the Indian penal system is not known for following schedules in allowing applications for bail or submitting charge-sheets. It may also be that most of the crimes excluded from relief — sexual crimes and ‘unlawful activities’ apart — are conceivably committed by persons not economically disadvantaged, hence able to arrange for their bail bond or fine.

The Centre’s proposal, if executed systematically and without delay, would be a remarkable help in thinning out the population in the country’s overcrowded prisons, besides bringing the justice of free movement to thousands of under-trial prisoners. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasised the fundamental right to personal liberty, pointing out that bail should be the rule and jail the exception. Ironically enough, the SOP would be for those who have been granted bail but are unable to pay it. It might be asked why courts should impose bonds that the arrested person would obviously be unable to pay, but more important is another issue. The majority of under-trial prisoners are disadvantaged, coming from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minority communities. Either deprivation pushes them into crime — that cannot account for the numbers — or, shamefully for the social machines in control, most of them are victims of prejudice or frame-ups. It is for this huge population that the Centre’s solution will bring just relief.

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