Overcrowding of Prison
The Supreme Court (SC) of India has ordered the interim release of eligible prisoners in view of the uncontrolled second surge in the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
The Court’s order aims to decongest jails and a measure that protects the right to life and health of the prisoners.
Important Points of Supreme Court Order:
Emphasised the need to adhere to the norms it had laid down in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) case.
Under this case, the police were asked not to effect unnecessary arrests, especially in cases that involve jail terms less than seven years.
Authorities in all districts in the country to give effect to Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C).
Under the Section 436A of the Cr.P.C, the undertrials who have completed half of the maximum prison term prescribed for the offence may be released on personal bond.
Suggested the legislature to consider the idea of placing convicts under house arrest to avoid overcrowding of prisons.
The occupancy rate in prisons climbed to 118.5% in 2019. Moreover, a very large sum of the budget is used for the maintenance of prisons.
Ordered all States to take preventive steps as well as constitute high-powered committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on bail or parole for a specified period.
Status of Indian Prisons:
Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints:
Understaffing and underfunding and
The Prison Statistics India 2016, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019 highlights the plight of prisoners in India.
Under-trial Population: India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world and more than half of all undertrials were detained for less than six months in 2016.
The report highlights that at the end of 2016, there were 4,33,033 people in prison, of whom 68% were undertrials.
This suggests that the high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.
People Held Under Preventive Detention: There is the rise in the number of people held under administrative (or ‘prevention’) detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir.
A 300% increase, with 431 detainees in 2016, compared to 90 in 2015.
Administrative, or ‘preventive’, detention is used by authorities to detain persons without charge or trial and circumvent regular criminal justice procedures.
Unawareness about Section 436A of C.R.P.C.: There is a gap between the number of prisoners eligible to be released and actually released, under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
In 2016, out of 1,557 undertrials found eligible for release under Section 436A, only 929 were released.
Also, research by Amnesty India has found that prison officials are frequently unaware of this section and unwilling to apply it.
Unnatural Deaths in Prison: The number of “unnatural” deaths in prisons has doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231.
The rate of suicide among prisoners also increased by 28%, from 77 suicides in 2015 to 102 in 2016.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2014 had stated that on average, a person is one-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide in prison than outside. This is a possible indicator of the magnitude of mental health concerns within Indian prisons.
Lack of Mental Health Professional: There was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists /psychiatrists.
Also, the NCRB had said that about 6,013 individuals with mental illness were in jail in 2016.
As per the Prison Act, 1894 and Prisoner Act, 1900, there should be a welfare officer and a law officer in each jail but recruitment of these officers is still pending. This state explains the low political and budgetary priority which prisons have received during the preceding century.
Recommendation for Prison Reforms:
The Supreme Court appointed Justice Amitava Roy (retd.) Committee has given the following recommendations to reform prisons.
Speedy Trial: Speedy trial remains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of overcrowding.
Lawyer to Prisoner Ratio: There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners, which is not the case at present.
Special Courts: Special fast-track courts should be set up to deal exclusively with petty offences which have been pending for more than five years.
Further, accused persons who are charged with petty offences and those granted bail, but who are unable to arrange surety should be released on a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond.
Avoid Adjournment: An adjournment should not be granted in cases where witnesses are present and the concept of plea bargaining, in which the accused admits guilt for a lesser sentence, should be promoted.
Accommodative Transition: Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail.
Legal Aid: Providing effective legal aid to prisoners and taking steps to provide vocational skills and education to prisoners.
Use of ICT: Use of video-conferencing for trial.
Alternatives: The courts may be asked to use their “discretionary powers” and award sentences like “fine and admonition” if possible instead of sending the offenders to jails.
Further, courts may be encouraged to release offenders on probation at pre-trial stage or after trial in deserving cases.
The Supreme Court should pass directions asking authorities to start the recruitment process against permanent vacancies within three months and the process should be completed in a year.
For Food: Modern cooking facilities and canteens to buy essential items.
In 2017, the Law Commission of India had recommended that undertrials who have completed a third of their maximum sentence for offences attracting up to seven years of imprisonment be released on bail.
New Approach for Post-Covid Education
Due to a surge in Covid-19 infections in the Second Wave of infections, the education of students in the entire nation is affected.
Availability of Online Education:
Online education was envisioned as an alternative means of spreading education, but it too fails, given the Indian students’ conditions.
The availability and affordability of this system poses a barrier.
While e-education is a privilege for the students from an upper and middle class, it has proved to be a nuisance for students from the lower middle class and people living below the poverty line.
Long-Term Exposure to Internet:
There are also implications of longer exposure to the internet for these young kids.
This may create impediments to the development of the thinking process in the younger generation.
Decreasing Analytical Thinking:
The other important question is about the learning outcomes of online education.
Google is the prominent and only platform to all queries, and as a result of that, students are not thinking on their own.
Scientific outlook was the key parameter stressed upon since the inception of modern education in India.
Increasing Student Isolation:
Due to the pandemic and lack of physical classroom teaching, a peculiar feeling of isolation is developing in the minds of students. That’s a very serious issue. The trauma of the second wave will put a deep imprint on the student’s mind.
Physical interaction and activities have been entirely absent, and that may also be contributing to new problems.
Use of Infrastructure:
The whole infrastructure should be fully utilised, and if necessary, many more facilities should be invested in (and created) to impart education.
As classroom teaching gives us the opportunity to impart many more things apart from information.
Institutions should contemplate new content generation for each subject to overcome the absence of classroom teaching within the framework of the existing syllabus.
This content would be of a new type, self-explanatory, and considering the lowest IQ of the class, it has to be attractive.
The content should produce the same effect on the minds of the students that the best book imparts on the thinking faculty.
The teachers and non-teaching staff should visit the locality of the students (in and around the school area) on a weekly basis to supervise the whole work.
They should take notes on the problems faced by students in understanding the reading material and also whether things are reaching them on time.
New Evaluation System:
The evaluation should be based on the capacity of analysis, and the questions should be framed in such a way that students need to apply their minds to answer the questions on each subject.
In addition, the government should take the responsibility to vaccinate the whole teaching community as fast as possible to advance this learning process.
Related Government Initiatives for E-Learning:
An initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide e-content for studies.
It provides for an integrated platform for online courses.
It aims to use Artificial Intelligence to make learning more personalized and customized as per the requirements of the learner
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) released guidelines on digital education titled PRAGYATA.
Under the PRAGYATA guidelines, only 30 minutes of screen time per day for interacting with parents is recommended for kindergarten, nursery and pre-school.
National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning:
The NPTEL is a project of MHRD initiated by seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), along with the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore.
It was started in 2003 and its aim was to have web and video courses in engineering, sciences, and management.
Covid-19 has shown the extent to which the Indian system of education exploits inequalities.
Thus, there is a need for renewed commitments to the synergy between the private and public education sector. In this context, there is a need to make education a common good and digital innovation can help in achieving the feat.