The Supreme Court has expressed shock over non-release of a large number of undertrial prisoners languishing in Indian prisons in complete violation of fundamental right to protection of life and personal liberty and asked several states to explain.
A division bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta expressed concern as to why undertrials were not released by the states despite the apex court's earlier direction to release them, or even after bail to them or completion of their sentences.
According to the recommendations made in a report filed by the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) in the court, none of the undertrials who should have been granted bail and released on the basis of illness and mental ill-health have been released.
The bench asked Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh to file affidavits on the number undertrial prisoners, category-wise, languishing in their prisons and why they were not released.
"We will be compelled to seek the personal presence of Chief Secretaries of these three states if the affidavits are not filed by October 26," said the bench while posting the matter for October 31.
The court referred the NALSA report to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and asked: "What action the government of India is taking? We have issued necessary direction for the release. It seems the Centre is not taking any steps."
"It is a shocking state of affair," it added.
The Attorney General told the bench that the Centre has been issuing advisories to the states from time to time to release such persons but they were not doing so.
"We (Centre) can only issue an advisory; we have no power under the Constitution to issue directions to the states. It is for the Supreme Court to direct the states to release the undertrial prisoners, as recommended by the undertrial committee of NALSA," he added.
To this, the bench said: "Your submission is very strange. If you think your advisory is not being implemented, then stop issuing any advisory because they are being ignored by the states.
"This is not the way the Centre should behave. When people are languishing in jail and their rights under Article 21 of the Constitution are being violated, you say the Centre will do nothing."
Venugopal said the court should summon the state Chief Secretaries and call for reports to indicate why undertrials were not released despite recommendations.
The bench is hearing a 2013 public interest litigation on inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.
Amicus curiae Gaurav Agrawal asked the state government what steps they were taking regarding overcrowding in jails, strengthening and training of prison staff, deaths of jail inmates, and legal aid to prisoners.