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Tribal commission asks states to identify undertrials in jails who can be freed

The percentage of tribal under-trials is higher in the north eastern states with Mizoram topping the list with 99.96%, while in Meghlaya and Arunachal Pradesh the tribal under-trails are 78.12% and 49.38% of the total number. 

india Updated: Jul 10, 2017 23:23 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Schedule Tribes,NCST,National commission for schedule tribes
NCST wants governments to ensure speedy trials in cases that have been pending for long and to release undertrails who have been held in prison without formal prosecution.(HT File Photo/ Representative image)

The national commission for scheduled tribes (NCST) has written to all state governments to identify tribal undertrials in jails who have no cases against them and can be set free.

The commission wants governments to ensure speedy trials in cases that have been pending for long and to release those who have been held in prison without formal prosecution.

In 2015, the home ministry informed Parliament that according to the 2013 national crime records bureau data, there were 11.34 % tribal undertrials in jail. This percentage is higher in northeastern states, with Mizoram topping the list with 99.96%. In Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, undertrials are 78.12% and 49.38% of the total number.

“We have asked states to collect information about the undertrials in jails and follow up their cases to see for how long they have been languishing. It is an issue of human rights,” Raghav Chandra, NCST secretary, said.

Helping those who cannot afford legal representation is also being discussed.

The problems of tribals incarcerated and awaiting release has been flagged by several human rights activists over time; especially in Maoist-infiltrated states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

The issue hit headlines in 2011 and 2012, when the government began negotiations to secure the release of two civil servants — the then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna and former Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon — who were abducted by the outlawed CPI (Maoist).

Both times, the outfit demanded the release of hundreds of tribal undertrials who, they alleged, were being illegally held. After Menon’s release in 2012, the Chhattisgarh government had set up a high-powered committee headed by former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary Nirmala Buch to review cases of undertrials, who were in jail for over two years.

In the Red corridor, there has been a proliferation of complaints about tribals being arrested on suspicion of being sympathisers of Maoists or their cadre.

Senior lawyer and human rights activist Vrinda Grover said the government will need to speed up trials for the hundreds of tribals who are lodged in prisons and have been slapped with “a Maoist case”. Citing the case of south Chhattisgarh, which she said has the highest percentage of such undertrials, Grover said: “RTI data show that most of these tribals were eventually acquitted. Have prisons then become holding areas for tribals while land acquisition is taking place?”

She also stressed the need to delink Maoists from dissenting tribals. “Criminal law is being used as a weapon to keep tribals from asserting themselves.”

First Published: Jul 10, 2017 23:23 IST