The country’s top judges have decided to fast-track cases of lakhs of undertrials, many of whom have been in jail for periods longer than they would serve on being found guilty.
Prisoners awaiting verdict for more than 10 years will top the priority list. It is estimated that more than 280,000 people are languishing in 1,387 jails across the country, constituting almost two-thirds of India’s total prison population.
While courts battle a huge backlog, Indian prisons are overcrowded, with cases takes years to be decided. Sometimes the first hearing takes months. Many of the accused are too poor to afford a lawyer to represent them.
Going through the data, the chief justices’ conference 2016, which concluded on April 23 here, resolved to take the disposal of cases pending for more than 10 years “on a mission-mode basis”.
The chief justices also decided to take up cases pending for more than three years and evolve a mechanism for regular identification of undertrial prisoners completing more than half of their maximum possible sentences.
At least 18,000 cases are pending for more than three years of which 80% cases are concentrated in seven states.
Out of these, 226 cases are awaiting verdict for more than 10 years.
Taking note of the fact that 33% positions of jail staff were vacant, contributing to pitiable jail conditions, the conference chaired by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur decided that state governments should step in to fill vacancies. “State governments shall ensure proper connectivity by video conferencing between courts and jails,” they said.
The information available on the National Judicial Data Grid would be used to monitor undertrials’ cases to generate monthly reports and reduce pendency, the judges decided.
Addressing the inaugural session of the CJs and chief ministers conference on April 24, CJI Thakur had broken down while talking about successive governments’ failure to appoint more judges to handle the “avalanche” of cases. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured the CJI all possible help.