Senior IPS officer V K Gupta is the Director – General of Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission. Gupta, who was Additional Director General (Prisons) in Uttar Pradesh between 2009 and 2012, spoke to Deccan Herald’s Shemin Joy. Excerpts:
Overcrowding of jails is a concern area. What are the problems that led to such a situation?
There are several reasons for that. The power of the state to commute sentence is no more there, convictions have become faster and population is increasing. Earlier, people were periodically released on certain occasions like Independence Day and Republic Day. The power of governments in releasing people has been struck down by courts due to misuse by the State.
If you compare the figures of release of convicts in last 10 years with the release in the previous 10 years, you will find that the figures are negligible. Another issue is more people are indulging in crime. If you see evolution of crime, the bigger crimes have come down while the smaller crimes have grown in numbers.
Dacoity and all have come down but motorcycle theft, chain snatching and laptop lifting all have increased. I feel the poor people cannot afford quality lawyers. Many must be in jail even when they are not really culprits. Overcrowding is a problem.
The capacity of jails has increased by only 5,000 between 2012 and 2013 while the number of prisoners rose by 17,000.
The point is, after all, how much capacity can be increased. You cannot manage huge numbers in a jail. The prison population has to be manageable. Criminals are not bothered about discipline.
You cannot use force against them. In Uttar Pradesh, we have almost 90,000 prisoners in 73 jails. It is a huge number. Prisoners should have enough space for themselves. There should be a slab for them to sit. Now it is only a flat ground, you are lying down or squatting. These are creating problems in knee joints.
The Supreme Court has stepped in asking the Centre and states to decongest jails by releasing undertrial prisoners under certain conditions.
That is very good. Just because we cannot complete trial, we cannot keep someone in jail forever. If someone is languishing in jail and if he is acquitted later, how will you return his time? The point is that the jail authorities cannot do much.
They have to report to the court that such and such prisoner has completed this much time and these are the charges and kindly release him. Jail authorities are only the custodians of the prisoners. The release order has to come from the judiciary. It is the bottleneck. There should be some system of auditing to see that such prisoners are not languished.
In spite of all these measures, the impact is less. Re-arrest is a problem. Some times, habitual offenders are released from jail after their prison term and they are again arrested as preventive action. A common man may also languish in jail because of lack of legal aid. He may not have the resources to hire quality lawyers. After convictions, jails also help them with appeal. But that is a one-line appeal to higher courts. They may not get the required relief. This is also an issue.
You have been a jail administrator. What were the difficulties you faced? A jail superintendent has to manage the jail. He cannot keep standing all the time in the court. He is summoned by the court in so many matters. Superintendents’ work is to audit and make the report. The court should be efficient in disposing of these cases.
The government has now announced the next phase of modernisation of prisons. In modernisation, the basic issue is to decongest jails, ensure hygiene and medical facilities and so on. One has to ensure that prisoners should have some work to do. They should be given education. They should be given an opportunity to appear in exams. We should involve local industries in ensuring that prisoners are getting some job while in jail. Give them training and raw material.
The prisoners can make the product and the local industries can pay them. Prisoners, who are languishing, will get some money.
We need to plug loopholes to ensure that there is no corruption. The biggest source of corruption in jail is cooking. All the time, prisoners are cooking. Why not outsource cooking? When I talk about modernisation, I talk about modernisation of thoughts rather than modernisation of materials. One has to see how we modernise.
Modernisation does not mean that you buy more weapons. What will you do with the weapons in jail? You are not supposed to open fire in jail. We should use computers to shorten our paper work.