Issue of undertrials


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 21

Mains level : Paper 2- Addressing the issue of undertrials


After the death of Stan Swamy, questions about the conditions of jails and treatment of the incarcerated have been raised anew.

Issue of deaths of prisoners

  • The NCRB data reports the death of over 1,800 prisoners in the year 2018. An estimated 70 percent of prison inmates are undertrials.
  • Despite constitutional provisions like Article 21, which says, no person shall be denied life or liberty except by the due process of law, the number of undertrials is increasing.

How prisoners are subjected to additional torture

  • Overcrowding, delayed medical attention, unhygienic conditions and malnutrition exist in all Indian prisons.
  • It is the responsibility of the State and the judiciary to ensure that they are only deprived of their liberty and are not exposed to any additional torture in the form of medical deprivation, unhygienic conditions, bad or inadequate food, etc.
  • Yet, thousands are dying every year and the prison authorities are not made accountable.

Way forward

  • Acts of extreme neglect that could result in the death of inmates should be acknowledged as extrajudicial torture and made an offense.
  • The SC in Sunil Batra (I) v. Delhi Administration (1978), held that “the humane thread of jail jurisprudence that runs right through is that no prison authority enjoys amnesty for unconstitutionality”.
  • ARC Recommendations on Prison Reforms: The Union and State Governments should work out, fund and implement at the
    earliest, modernization and reforms of the Prison System as recommended by the All India Committee on Jail Reforms (1980-83).
    b. The attendant legislative measures should also be expedited.
    c. Rules regarding Parole and Remission need to be reviewed.
  • Infrastructure: Prisoner Information System, Biometric Identification, facilities for pregnant women, up-gradation of hospitals, etc is needed.
  • Strengthening the Open Prison System.


The government needs to take urgent measures to address the issue of additional torture in various forms and the death of prisoners.

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