Punjab govt drags its feet over prison legislation

Nearly a year after the Vidhan Sabha passed the Prisons (Punjab Amendment) Bill 2011, it has mysteriously stalled from becoming law

india Updated: Feb 22, 2012 21:48 IST
Prabhjit Singh
Prabhjit Singh
Hindustan Times

It’s an important piece of legislation, but nobody quite knows what its status is.
To curb the use of mobile phones by prisoners, the state government passed a legislation on March 25, 2011, notifying one-year extension of prisoners’ term or a fine of Rs 25,000, or both, for offenders.

But nearly 11 months after the Punjab Vidhan Sabha passed the Prisons (Punjab Amendment) Bill 2011, it has not become law.
On April 5, 2011, the Vidhan Sabha secretariat forwarded the legislation to the legal remembrance wing which, in turn, sent it to the principal home secretary on April 8, 2011.

The home department ought to have sent it to the governor for presidential reference since the amendment was to the central Prisons Act, 1894.
But, it seems, that has not happened — and no senior official is willing to say why.
Punjab jails minister Hira Singh Gabria, who had moved the amendment bill in the Vidhan Sabha last year, told HT that he would “look into the matter” without giving a clear answer on whether the bill was sent to governor Shivraj Patil.

Principal secretary home DS Bains, who took charge in the beginning of March 2011, also could not explain the fate of the legislation.
The issue gathers significance as the state police are in the middle of a row over cracking down on offenders caught with mobile phones.
Director General of Police (prisons) Shashi Kant said the seizures of mobile phones in jails were reported to local police stations; the prisons department got the reply that there was no law under which offenders could be booked.

“The age-old prisons act is totally silent on the quantum of punishment to offenders for using cellphones and other such communication gadgets,” Kant said. “There is no will to resolve this issue.”

A total of 722 mobile phones have been seized from various prisons in the state in the last three years, according to police records.

‘Ban private de-addiction centres’
DGP (prisons) Shashi Kant said he was in favour of banning de-addiction centres that were adding to the problem of drug addiction. He said he was pursuing a “tripartite agreement between the state government, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) and Centre for a serious drive against addiction that is “eating up the state’s youth”.

“These non-registered de-addiction centres are illegitimate hubs of the drug menace,” Kant said, adding that the Kapurthala civil hospital and Bathinda civil hospital were the only authentic rehabilitation institutions.
“I will create public opinion on this issue (drug menace) in the state he said. “I am already in the process of launching an NGO, with the permission of the government, to work in coordination with the UNODC.”

First Published: Feb 22, 2012 21:46 IST