The Delhi High Court has expressed shock at the number of undertrial prisoners languishing in Tihar jail because their cases or appeals have not not coming up for hearing.
A substantial number of these prisoners have reportedly served more than three-fourth of the sentence already.
Most of these prisoners are accused in cases involving rape or murder, or have been booked under the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act. Convictions in such cases attract an imprisonment of more than seven years.
A bench of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and S Muralidhar was addressing these issues, raised by lawyer Manish Khanna through a letter to the court.
The court converted the letter into a PIL and sought certain details from the Delhi Government and Tihar authorities.
"It is alarming," the court said. "Sometimes, they (the undertrials) may have served their whole sentence and the case is taken up after that."
A senior Tihar jail official, who did not want to be quoted because he is not authorised to talk to the media, said, “The approximate number of prisoners facing trial for offence punishable for more than seven years is 4,500."
The court has asked Delhi police counsel Meera Bhatia to ascertain the number of prisoners facing trial for offence punishable for more than seven years and also gather their case data.
The judges have also sought to know the time each undertrial has spent in jail.
The court said it would try to ascertain the reasons why their trials have got prolonged.
The bench also summoned Delhi High Court Registrar General Rakesh Kapoor and Delhi Legal Services Authority Member Secretary Asha Menon to the court and briefed them about the initiative.
Khanna's letter said there were as many as 14 undertrials and five convicts in judicial custody in just one jail of Tihar for the past five years because their appeal is yet to be heard by the Delhi high court.
These facts came in the form of response to queries filed by Khanna under right to information.