A fortnight after a killer heat wave struck down seven people in as many days at Tihar, the Delhi High Court began a process that could become the biggest step yet in ending the inhuman conditions in the unacceptably overcrowded prison. The court said on Monday it would examine if a chunk of undertrials at the jail could be released on bail.
But only those facing trial for offences that attract a maximum seven years in jail will be considered.
A division bench of justices RS Sodhi and HR Malhotra asked Tihar authorities and the Delhi government to submit, by July 25, a list of such prisoners, their antecedents and the time each had spent in jail.
Tihar Jail’s law officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said there were about 2,000 such inmates. “If all of them are released on bail, the overcrowding will ease to a considerable extent,” he told HT.
Tihar currently has 13,253 prisoners — more than double its capacity of 6,250. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 81 per cent of them (over 10,000) are undertrials.
The court said judicial backlog was a major reason for the overcrowding. “There is no denying that such a high percentage of undertrials in a jail is a poor reflection of the state of affairs of the criminal justice administration. Some drastic steps are called for,” Justice Sodhi said.
The observations came during a hearing on the conditions that had led to the death of six inmates and a policeman in seven days from June 6. Two weeks ago, the court had ordered the release of 600 prisoners who were under preventive detention in the jail.