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SC ignored, death-row prisoners segregated | India News

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court committee on prison reforms surveyed jails in 12 major states and found 222 prisoners on death row, including four in the Nirbhaya case, and said except Jharkhand, all other states had a policy of segregating such prisoners from other inmates in flagrant violation of repeated SC rulings since 1978.

The 170-page report of the prison reforms committee headed by retired SC judge Amitava Roy, which was recently placed before a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde through amicus curiae Gaurav Agrawal, said, “Except Jharkhand, all other states have a policy for segragation of death row convicts from other inmates.” The committee surveyed prisons of Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

It said the policy to segregate condemned prisoners from other inmates was in violation of landmark decisions of the SC, starting with the Sunil Batra case judgment in 1978. In that case, the SC had said that “death row convicts cannot be segregated” and that they are “entitled to the amenities of ordinary inmates in prison like games, books, newspapers, reasonably good food, the right to expression – artistic or other, normal clothing and bed”.

In Ajay Kumar Pal case in 2014, the SC had ruled that a convict sentenced to death could not be segregated till his/her mercy petition to the President was disposed of. “Segregating a prisoner before that would be a complete transgression of the right under Article 21… causing incalculable harm to the prisoner,” it had said.

Last year, while dealing with inhuman condition in prisons, the SC had said, “There is no difference between a separate cell and solitary confinement. Therefore, a convict on death row is entitled to move within the confines of the prison like any other convict undergoing rigorous imprisonment. However, certain restrictions may be necessary for security reasons, but even then, it would be necessary to comply with natural justice.”

The Model Prison Manual, 2016, recommended segregation of each convict sentenced to death (whether or not the sentence of death has been confirmed by the high court) from the date of his admission to a prison, the committee said in its report. However, it pointed out that Delhi Prison Rules, 2018, adopted a more humane approach by stipulating that segregation of a death row convict would be effected when all legal remedies were exhausted and the convict was under a finally executable death sentence.

This means, the Nirbhaya case convicts, who have moved mercy petitions before the President after dismissal of their curative pleas by the SC, could not be kept under segregation and can avail facilities like education, legal, sports, canteen, interviews, labour, remission etc which are available to other prisoners.

The committee also found that of the 12 states, only Delhi and Kerala allocated work to all death row convicts lodged in their prisons, while in other states, only 25% of condemned prisoners were allocated work. “J&K and Karnataka have no policy for allocation of work to death row convicts, which is a violation of the fundamental right,” it said.

Of the 222 condemned prisoners, Maharashtra houses the highest (71), followed by Uttar Pradesh (27), Bihar and Karnataka (22 each), West Bengal and Kerala (18 each), Jharkhand (15) and Delhi (12). Of the 222, appeals against death sentence of 139 convicts are pending in the SC (31) and HCs (108).

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