In a stinging indictment of the criminal justice system that he presides over, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Tuesday conceded that the poor – caught for minor offences – made up for the overwhelming majority of undertrials locked up in Indian prisons.
Shinde’s remarks – made at an international conference of prison administrators – came on a day the government is trying to ensure that elected representatives convicted for serious crimes do not lose their jobs.
“A majority of the persons lodged in prisons belong to the under-privileged sections of society and most of them consist of first time offenders involved in technical or minor violations of law and constitute 90% of the prison population,” the Home Minister said in his inaugural address at the international conference.
As a proportion to population, India has one of the lowest prison population rates in the world.
“The incarceration rate in India per lakh of population is 32 prisoners in comparison with 130 in Australia, 149 in UK and 716 in USA,” Shinde said.
And most of the prisoners – 66.2% of the 3.85 lakh – are people who are yet to be pronounced guilty.
According to prison figures, only 1.27 lakh prisoners are convicts serving their sentence. An important reason for India’s low prison population is that the criminal justice system is too rusted and overloaded due to lack of investment over decades.
Shinde is the first home minister in years to acknowledge the problem.