October 4, 2022

Justice Hameedullah Beg

Tihar Jail in the light of Inspector Notes of Justice Beg

In Sunil Batra (I) case, the issue of solitary confinement came before the court where a death-sentenced prisoner whose appeal was pending, complained about his solitary confinement. While discussing the various aspects of solitary confinement, the court also mentioned the inspector notes of chief justice beg.

The court said,

“The Tihar Jail is the scene and a glimpse of it is good. Law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky but a behavioural omnipotence on the earth, a do-don’t calculus of principled pragmatism. So, any discussion of prison law problems must be preceded by a feel of the cell and surroundings[1].”

For this reason, here it is set out the inspector notes left by Chief Justice Beg (quoted in Sunil Batra(I) Case[2]), who visited the ‘condemned cell’ along its two brothers on the bench:

“We inspected the cell in which the prisoner was confined. We were relieved to find that conditions there did not correspond to the picture which eloquent arguments his counsel before us conjured up in our minds. We had been led to believe that the prisoner was kept in some kind of a dungeon with only a small hole through which light could penetrate only when there was enough sunshine. It was true that the prisoner was living in a room with a cemented floor and with no bed, furniture, or windows in it. The light came from a ventilator with iron bars on the wall at the back of the room and the wide gate of iron bars in front.

The light was, however, enough. It is also true that there was no separate room for the petitioner to take a bath in or to answer calls of nature. But in this very room, the site of which given on a diagram furnished by the jail authorities, water and sanitary fittings were installed in one corner of the room. In front of the room there was a small verandah with pakka walls and iron gates separating each side of it from a similar verandah in front of an adjoining cell. The entrance into this verandah was also through a similar iron gate. The inner room in which the prisoner was confined had also a gate of iron bars.

All gates were with iron bars on frames so that one could see across them through the spaces between the bars. All these gates were locked. We learnt that the petitioner was able to come into the verandah at certain times of the day. At that time only he could communicate with other similarly kept prisoners whom he could see and talk to through the iron bars. In other words, for all practical purposes, it was a kind of solitary confinement. We did not see a separate guard for each prisoner in the row of cells for prisoners sentenced to death. All these prisoners were certainly segregated and kept apart.

But it is difficult to determine, without going into the meaning of ‘solitary confinement’. as a term of law whether the conditions in which the petitioner was kept amounted to ‘solitary confinement’. Probably, if small windows with iron bars were provided between one cell and another, the prisoners could talk to each other also so that the confinement would no longer be solitary despite the fact that they are kept in separate adjoining cells. The petitioner did not complain of any discomfort other than being kept in ‘solitary confinement’ and being made to sleep on the floor.

He asked us to see another part of the prison where undertrials were kept. When we visited that part, we found dormitories provided there for under-trial prisoners who had beds there and their own bedding and clothing. They also had, in that part of the prison, radio sets, some of which belonged to the prisoners no others to the jail. The under trials were allowed to mix with each other, play games or do what they wanted within a compound.”

REFERENCE

Sunil Batra Etc. vs Delhi Administration 1978 AIR 1675, 1979 SCR (1) 392


[1] Sunil Batra Etc vs Delhi Administration 1978 AIR 1675, 1979 SCR (1) 392

[2] Ibid