The snail-paced disposal of cases in Maharashtra’s courts has not just kept the pendency rate high but also caused overcrowding in jails. In most prisons in the state, the prisoner population is considerably more than the permitted capacity, leading to law-and-order problems.
In the state’s southern region, where Mumbai falls, three of the four prisons were overcrowded in the last week of September. Arthur Road jail has a capacity of 804 but housed 1,995 inmates. Thane jail can accommodate 1,105 inmates but its population was 1,984. Kalyan jail is meant for 505 prisoners but held 1,122.
To tackle just such overcrowding, the chief of the National Human Rights Commission had earlier this year recommended creation of night courts on prison premises to at least dispose of cases relating to petty crimes. Jail authorities appreciate the suggestion but point out that its implementation is the government’s prerogative. “Although it will help speed up trials, the idea has to be accepted by the law and judiciary department and the directorate of prosecution,” said a jail officer. “There have been times when inmates were not taken to court for hearing due to shortage of escort staff.”
No wonder then, undertrials out on bail as well as those acquitted support courts in jails or nearby. “It will save time and manpower,” said an inmate who was recently granted bail. They note that, partly due to overcrowding, the state of most of Maharashtra prisons is abysmal. This has resulted in fights among prisoners and riots. Recently, an inquiry was set up when a group of inmates assaulted policemen in Taloja jail.
Officials argue that prison understaffing compounds problems spawned by overcrowding. Not infrequently, inmates flee from police custody while being ferried to court for hearing or back. A few years ago, four undertrials slipped away while being transported back to Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai from a sessions court in Mumbai.
The suggestion of night courts in jails finds backers among prisoners and prison officials but not among many legal experts. Public prosecutor Neelima Kasture maintains nights courts are “not the solution” since they would add to the burden of judges and lawyers. “We need judges who will not give repeated adjournments. Unlike earlier, several district judges now focus on procedural technicalities, which cause unnecessary delay. They must hear the matter every day and dispose of them quickly. Another problem is lawyers who survive on adjournments. This practice should be curbed,” she said.
The Times of India, October 8, 2012