Sunil Batra case is counted among those cases that changed the conditions of Indian prisoners in prisons. Sunil Batra case was instituted in epistolary fashion i.e. a letter was sent by a prisoner Sunil Batra to the supreme court and court converted that letter into writ petition.
In the letter, Batra complained the brutal assault by a Head Warder on another prisoner, Prem Chand.
Batra, a convict under death sentence lodged in the Tihar Central Jail, came to know of a crime of torture practised upon another prisoner, Prem Chand, allegedly by a jail warder, Maggar Singh, as a means to extract money from the victim through his visiting relations.
In the case, Justice Krishna Iyer thoroughly analysed the prison system and brutality faced by prisoners in prisons. After analysing the case, the court first issued direction particularly for Prem Chand and directed to stop such torture on prisoner immediately and give proper medication to Prem Chand.
Directions of the court
Further, the court issued the precise directions that are as follows-
For Prem Chand
1. We hold that Prem Chand, the prisoner, has been tortured illegally and the Superintendent cannot absolve himself from responsibility even though he may not be directly a party. Lack of vigilance is limited guilt. We do not fix the primary guilt because a criminal case is pending or in the offing.
The State shall take action against the investigating police for the apparently collusive dilatoriness and deviousness we have earlier indicated. Policing the police is becoming a new ombudsmanic task of the rule of law.
2. We direct the Superintendent to ensure that no corporal punishment or personal violence on Prem Chand shall be inflicted. No irons shall be forced on the person of Prem Chand in vindictive spirit. In those rare cases of ‘dangerousness’ the rule of hearing and reasons set out by this Court in Batra’s case and elaborated earlier shall be complied with.
For the nomination of lawyers
3. Lawyers nominated by the District Magistrate, Sessions Judge, High Court and the Supreme Court will be given all facilities for inter views, visits and confidential communication with prisoners subject to discipline and security considerations. This has roots in the visitatorial and supervisory judicial role.
The lawyers so designated shall be bound to make periodical visits and record and report to the concerned court results which have relevance to legal grievances.
For disposal of Grievance
4. Within the next three months, Grievance Deposit Boxes shall be maintained by or under the orders of the District Magistrate and the Sessions Judge which will be opened as frequently as is deemed fit and suitable action taken on complaints made. Access to such boxes shall be accorded to all prisoners.
For official visitors
5. District Magistrates and Sessions Judges shall, personally or through surrogates, visit prisons in their jurisdiction and afford effective opportunities for ventilating legal grievances, shall make expeditious enquiries there into and take suitable remedial action. In appropriate cases reports shall be made to the High Court for the latter to initiate, if found necessary, habeas action.
The rules regulating the appointment and duties of non-official visitors and official visitors to the prisons have been in force for a long time and their primary functions is “to visit all parts of the jail and to see all prisoners and to hear and enquire into any complaint that any prisoner hear make”.
In practice, these rules have not been very effective in providing a forum for the prisoners to redress their grievances. There are a few non-official visitors who take up their duties conscientiously and listen to the grievances of the prisoners. But most of them take this appointment solely as a post of honour and are somewhat reluctant to record the visitors’ book any grievance of a prisoner which might cause embarrassment to the prison staff. The judicial officers, viz., the Sessions Judge and the Magistrates who are also ex- officio visitors do not discharge their duties effectively.
We insist that the judicial officers referred to by us shall carry out their duties and responsibilities and serve as an effective grievance Mechanism.
For solitary or punitive cell
6. No solitary or punitive cell, no hard labour or dietary change as painful additive, no other punishment or denial of privileges and amenities, no transfer to other prisons with penal consequences, shall be imposed without judicial appraisal of the Sessions Judge and where such intimation, on account of emergency, is difficult, such information shall be given within two days of the action.
No specific time limit
The court further said that-
“What we have stated and directed constitute the mandatory part of the judgment and shall be complied with by the State. But implicit in the discussion and conclusions are certain directives for which we do not fix any specific time limit except to indicate the urgency of their implementation.”
The court further spelled out quasi-mandates-
1. The State shall take early steps to prepare in Hindi, a Prisoner’s Handbook and circulate copies to bring legal awareness home to the inmates. Periodical jail bulletins stating how improvements and habilitative programmes are brought into the prison may create a fellow- ship which Will ease tensions. A prisoners’ wall paper, which will freely ventilate grievances will also reduce stress. All these are implementary of s. 61 of the Prisons Act.
2. The Slate shall take steps to keep up to the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners recommended by the United Nations, especially those relating to work and wages, treatment with dignity community contact and correctional strategies. In this latter aspect, the observations we have made of holistic development of personality shall be kept in view.
3. The Prisons Act needs rehabilitation and the Prison Manual total overhaul, even the Model Manual being out of focus with healing goals. A correctional-cum orientation course is necessitous for the prison staff inculcating the constitutional values, therapeutic approaches and tension- free management.
4. The prisoners’ rights shall be protected by the court by its writ jurisdiction plus contempt power. To make this jurisdiction viable, free legal services to the prisoner programmes shall be promoted by professional organisations recognised by the Court such as for e.g. Free Legal Aid (Supreme Court) Society. The District Bar shall, we re-commend, keep a cell for prisoner relief.
The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Torture and other cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted by U. N. General Assembly (Resolution 3452 of 9 December 1975) has relevance to our decision.
In particular Article 8.-
Any person who alleges that he has been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by or at the instigation of a public official shall have the right to complain to, and to have his case impartially examined by, the competent authorities of the State concerned.
Article 9.-Wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture as defined in article I has been committed, the competent authorities of the State concerned shall promptly proceed to an impartial investigation even if there has been no formal complaint.
We conclude with the hope that the State, though preoccupied with many pressing problems, will discharge its constitutional obligation to the invisible mortals incarcerated by it and legislatively and administratively re-make a Prison Code.
Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1579, 1980 SCR (2) 557