The Supreme Court on Friday ordered overcrowded jails to free all undertrials who have served half their maximum term, a landmark ruling that marks the Narendra Modi government’s first step towards judicial reform.
More than two-thirds of India’s nearly four million prisoners are awaiting trial, according to human rights organisation Amnesty International, and many have already spent years in prison.
The law says prisoners awaiting trial must be released once they have served half the maximum sentence they would receive if found guilty, but that law is rarely implemented.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha said that prisons must comply with the law and ordered local judges and magistrates to oversee the process. Prisoners serving life terms or slapped with death penalty will, however, not come under the ambit of this new programme, that will be first implemented in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
“Judicial officers shall identify prisoners who have completed half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for offences they are charged with,” Lodha said. “After completing the procedure they should pass appropriate orders in the jail itself for the release of undertrial prisoners.”
The court said the two months’ drive, which will start on October 1, will see a sessions judge and judicial officers subordinate to him visiting jails under their jurisdiction to examine such cases and ordering the undertrials’ release.