The Delhi High Court on Monday ordered the Tihar Jail authorities to release 600 inmates languishing in preventive detention only because there was nobody to stand surety for them.
The court termed this as a “first small step” aimed at easing overcrowding in the jail, which recently witnessed seven mysterious deaths in quick succession, including that of a warden. The prison is bursting at its seams with 13,712 prisoners against a sanctioned strength of 6,250.
A vacation Bench of the court was acting on the report of a three-member, court-appointed committee which visited the jail. The panel blamed overcrowding and acute water shortage, with only two of the six water connections functional. They also painted a grim picture of the medical and sanitation facilities.
The 600 inmates to be released are those booked under Section 107 (security for keeping the peace) along with 151 (arrest to prevent commission of cognizable offence) of the Criminal Procedure Code. To ensure that those released do not escape, the court directed them to report to the local police station twice a day.
“They have not done any crime. Why do you keep them under detention for so long,” Justice Nandrajog asked. The order assumes importance considering the fact that three of those who died — Harish Kumar, Amit Kumar and Vinod — were under preventive detention in jail number 7.
Tihar Jail Law Officer Sunil Gupta welcomed the order on release of the prisoners under preventive detention as “historic”. Said another senior Tihar official: “It will be good if the immediate release on signing a bond becomes a rule. We have been demanding this for long. This is the only section that gave the police power to pick up people and lodge them in prison even without producing them in court. They have been rampantly misusing this CrPC section to their whims and fancy to extort money.”
The court-appointed committee, which visited the jail comprised Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Seema Maini, High Court Registrar (vigilance) R.K. Gauba and advocate J.P. Singh. The court ordered the visit taking cognizance of a letter by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Kamini Lau on jail conditions.