PILs Serve Public Interest

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 01 Oct 2018 11:47:18











The present petition concerning the rights of prisoners, was initiated on the basis of a letter received by the court from a former CJI. It was initially resisted by the State, but with the intervention of the Attorney General, it appears that the need for introspection and reform has been recognised and there has been a positive and constructive expression of interest shown by the Union of India.

WHILE answering a Reference regarding “Inhuman conditions in 1382 prisons” in the country with seven directions by way of long-term reforms in jails on September 25, 2018, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta, at the Supreme Court, has without mincing words, stated that the recent outbursts of the State about the idea of public interest litigation or its denigration by “chanting the mantra of Judicial activism or separation of powers”, in most cases, are nothing but a FIG LEAF to cover its own failure to recognise the existence of the rule of law and the need for providing social justice to the people of the country, as stated in the PREAMBLE to our Constitution.

According to the highest court of the land, instead of blaming the PILs, the State should realise that public interest litigation has given a voice to millions of marginalised sections of society, women and children. PIL is one of the most important contributions of India to jurisprudence. In fact, the Indian experience has encouraged some other countries to encourage PIL in their jurisprudence.

This is not the opinion of the court that PIL has not been misused or that occasionally this court has not exceeded its jurisdiction, but it must be emphasised that wherever this court might have exceeded its jurisdiction, it has always been in the interest of the people of the country prompted by administrative mis-governance or absence of governance.  There are, therefore, occasional transgressions on both sides, but that cannot take away from the significance of PIL as a non-adversarial source of righting some wrongs and encouraging social change through accountability and, in cases, transparency.

Even the present petition concerning the rights of prisoners, which was initiated on the basis of a letter received by the court from a former CJI, was initially resisted by the State, but with the intervention of the Attorney General, it appears that the need for introspection and reform has been recognised and there has been a positive and constructive expression of interest shown by the Union of India in this regard.

This petition arose out of a concern shown by the former CJI R. C. Lahoti on 4 issues – overcrowding in prisons; unnatural death of prisoners; gross inadequacy of staff; and the available staff being untrained or inadequately trained.

Ever since this petition is pending disposal, despite several directions issued by the Supreme Court from time to time, no finality has yet been attached to the rights of prisoners.
On the contrary, issues that require consideration have multiplied and new vistas have opened for consideration.

There is a wealth of material available on record, apart from several milestone decisions like Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration-(1978) 4 SCC 494; Charles Sobraj v. Superintendent Central Jail, Tihar-(1978)4 SCC 104; Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra-(1983) 2 SCC 96; Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration- (1980) 3 SCC 526- rendered by the apex court from time to time and also in this petition as well as in R. D. Upadhyay v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others – (2007) 15 SCC 337.
Keeping this in mind and dire necessity of jail reforms in prison administration and prison management despite earlier efforts, the Attorney General was asked to consider the feasibility of appointing a Committee to look into the entire range of issues raised, not only in this petition, but also other issues that have cropped up during the hearing on several dates and from time to time.

The Attorney General accepted the suggestion of appointing a Committee and the court directed the Union Home Ministry to issue a notification forthwith constituting a Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms consisting of:

1. Former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Amitava Roy as its Chairman.
2. Inspector General of Police, Bureau of Police Research and Development as its Member
3. Director General (Prisons) Tihar Jail, New Delhi as its Member.
The Committee will give its recommendations on the following issues, which constitute its Terms of Reference:
1. Review the implementation of the guidelines contained in the Model Prison Manual, 2016 by States and Union Territories (UTs).
2. Review the implementation by the States and UTs of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women in its report tabled in the Parliament titled ‘Women in Detention and Access to Justice’ and the advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in this regard.
3. To review the two training manuals for prison personnel prepared by Police Research and Development (BPR&D),’ Training Manual of Basic Course for Prison Officers, 2017’ and ‘Training Manual of Basic Course for Prison Warders 2017’ and forwarded to States and UTs.
4. Review the recommendations made in the report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development in collaboration with the National Commission for Women and the National Law University Delhi on ‘Women in Prisons’ and 13 other terms.
The court has “requested the Committee to give its recommendations regarding first three Terms of Reference, preferably in 3 months from the date of necessary facilities being provided by the Government of India.
The court expects the Committee to make its recommendations as soon as feasible, other than with respect to the first three Terms of Reference. The Committee will be free to devise its own procedure and formulate modalities necessary for accomplishing the task. The Committee is expected to complete the collection of data and information and make appropriate recommendations and submit the same to the court preferably within 12 months.
The Committee has been empowered to visit the States and interact with authorities concerned of the State Governments, which have to extend full cooperation to the Committee. It would be the responsibility of the State Governments to co-operate with the Committee and facilitate its visit and outreach to relevant authorities.
As and when a copy of the final report is submitted, the matter has been directed to be listed before the court for further orders.
The court has directed that the writ petition may be revived and listed as and when required by the Amicus Curiae.