Taking serious view over the inadequate number of jail officers across the country, the Supreme Court has directed all state governments to take “concrete” steps to fill the vacancies by March 31.
Also finding deficiencies in the training of jail staff, the court expressed its unhappiness and directed the Central government to prepare training manual for various categories of staff and officers in jail.
For strict monitoring of prisons, the court stressed for constitution of Board of Visitors in jails and sought the Centre’s report.
Amicus curiae Gaurav Aggarwal cited before a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur the government data in Lok Sabha about the present strength of the jail officers – 52,666 against the sanctioned strength of 77,988 by December 2014.
Referring to the government’s answer to a query in Lok Sabha, the bench noted that there is a gap of 27,000 staff at present.
“We direct all the state governments and Union Territories to take immediate steps to fill up the existing vacancies and initiate steps in this regard on or before March 31. The steps taken by each state or union territory should be intimated to the Ministry of Home Affairs,” the bench said.
In 2013, the court had taken suo motu cognizance of a media report on the inhuman conditions of jails across the country.
It accepted the submission of amicus saying: “It appears that over the past many years, hardly about 7,800 staff has been given some kind of training, mostly the refresher training. This is an unhappy state of affairs considering the fact that the number of staff is I the region about 50,000.”
The court ordered the Centre, in consultation with states, to take steps to prepare the training manual by March 31.
In addition, the court took on record the variation in expenses incurred towards each inmate per annum in different states. To address the issue, the Home Ministry was directed to come out with a scheme for auditing these accounts with the assistance of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
For financial year 2015-2016, Bihar showed per inmate Rs 83,692 per annum, where as Rajasthan showed only Rs 3,000. Similarly, Nagaland data says Rs 65,468 and Punjab is Rs 16,669.
Further, the court directed for constitution of Board of Visitors in jail and directed the Home Ministry to submit a status report.
Additional Solicitor General NK Kaul informed the court that a manual for juveniles in conflict with law is under preparation and the same would be ready by end of March.
Warning that heavy cost will be imposed in case the states and union territories failed to provide necessary data to the Centre, the court fixed April 12 as the next date of hearing.
On the top court’s order, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said: “We appreciate the court’s direction. Effective boards can really help the jail administration. But without suitable, trained and active people in place, nothing will change on the ground. This court should continue to monitor the appointment and work of these boards in consonance with 2011 MHA advisory.”