October 2, 2022

“Tihar prison is an arena of tension, trauma, violence, vulgarity and corruption”- The Conditions of Tihar Jail before 80s 

THE background of the ethos of the Tihar Jail may be gleaned from portions of the report of the Superintendent, Central Jail, Tihar, made by him with reference to the torture complained about in Sunil Batra case (1980). In that case, a prisoner Sunil Batra sent a letter to one of the judges of Supreme court complaining about the brutal torture to his inmate Prem Chand. The court converted that letter into habeas corpus petition and a report was submitted by Jail superintendent in this regard. A portion of that report is produced herein below-

“A number of prisoners in the Tihar Jail are habitual offenders, professional criminals who have been inmates of the jail from time to time. A number of the said prisoners are rarely visited by their relatives due to the fact that they do not want to associate with such persons. It has been seen that such prisoners are mainly visited by other professionals or habitual offenders in the field with whom they have had former associations.

Smuggling of Drugs with the help of Jail officials

It has been noticed these types of prisoners have been able to develop a certain report with some of the lower staff in the jail namely Head Warders, Warders etc. and obtain certain facilities illegally including smuggling of numbers of items, i.e. drugs etc. for their use. It may also be submitted that to check smuggling of narcotic drugs against prisoners who indulge in such activities 30 cases of narcotic offences were get registered against the prisoners with the Janakpuri Police Station during this year.

The problem of transfer

That 95 prisoners were transferred from the jail to Haryana due to administrative reasons which include indiscipline and violation of jail regulations by them and otherwise derogatory behaviour during the last year. This year also about 22 case have been recommended by Superintendent, Jail for transfer.

In para 568(b) and the note thereunder of the Jail Manual, the habituals are required to be kept separate from the casual prisoners but due to non- availability, of any other jail in Delhi they are being kept in Tihar Jail, which requires a lot or vigilance on the part of the jail officers.

It may also be mentioned that due to paucity of accommodation, the said jail is occupied by double the number of prisoners than it is otherwise authorised.

A substantial number of the prisoners are under-trials

Discussing the report, the court noted that,

“To aggravate the malady, we have the fact that a substantial number of the prisoners are under-trials who have to face their case in court and are presumably innocent until convicted. By being sent to Tihar Jail they are, by contamination, made criminals-a custodial perversity which violates the test of reasonableness in Art. 19 and of fairness in Art. 21. How cruel would it be if one went to a hospital for a check-up and by being kept along with contagious cases came home with a new disease!

We sound the tocsin that prison reform is not a constitutional compulsion and its neglect may lead to drastic court action. It would appear that around 300 persons are taken in and out daily between the prison and the courts.”

And when there arc political agitations. and consequent police arrests and remand to custody, the under-trial strength swells in numbers. Since many officers busy themselves with production of prisoners in court, the case of the Superintendent is that the other prisoners “try to do mischief, make thefts of other prisoners who go on work, smuggle things and even resort to assaults.”

Summing Up

To sum up, the Tihar prison is an arena of tension, trauma, tantrums and crimes of violence, vulgarity and corruption. And to cap it all, there occurs the contamination of pre-trial accused with habituals and “injurious prisoners of international gang.”

The crowning piece is that the jail officials themselves are allegedly in league with the criminals in the cells. That is, there is a large network of criminals, officials and non-officials in the house of correction! Drug racket, alcoholism, smuggling, violence, theft, unconstitutional punishment by way of solitary cellular life and transfers to other jails are not uncommon.

The Administration, if it does not immediately have the horrendous situation examined by an impartial, authoritative body, and sanitize the campus, complacent affidavits of Under Secretaries and glittering entries from dignitaries on their casual visits, cannot help.

Reference

Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1579, 1980 SCR (2) 557