Needless o say, the coefficient of correlation between lack of education and poverty is almost equal to one. Faced with overwhelming evidence of bias against the poor and marginal sections in the matter of arrest and imprisonment, the 17th report of the Law Commission, on the law of arrest in India, quotes Bernard Shaw to argue that “poverty is crime”. The report also says that an unconscionably high percentage of arrests are made without warrants. In major states like Attar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Briar, 60%-80% of the arrests are “preventive”, Such people are usually held in Jail because they are unable to furnish a satisfactory surety to accompany the bond of “good behavior” that they have been asked to execute by the Executive Magistrate (usually a PC’S/AS officer). The provisions were devised by the British to control a restive population at minimum cost to their exchequer. Independent India has continued the provisions unchanged. As many as 90% of the arrestees in this category are poor/ illiterate.
Yet again, according to the Law Commission, as many as 40% to 90% (varying from Tate to state) of arrestees are taken into custody for available offences, I. E. Offences where the law entitles them a virtual automatic release on bail by the police itself, without recourse to the court. In other words, such persons should be released on bail by the police immediately after being arrested, except in the rare case where they have a bonfire apprehension that the arrestee may try to evade the court’s process.
The Commission’s statistics are from the year 1998-99 but it estimates that the situation has been steadily worsening over the years. The trend continues even today. According to statistics posted by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCR) on its website, in 2011 about 40% of all under-trial prisoners spent about three months in jail, over 59% spent between three months and five years in Jail and about 0. 6% of them spent over 5 years in Jail as under-trials.
Thus, over 99% of the several lack arrested each year spend up to five years in Jail as under- trial prisoners. If one were to add up the time spent by these persons in Jail as under-trials, then several core By Anticlimactically I remind readers that the law presumes all persons innocent until proven guilty in accordance with law. Also that conviction rates are abysmal in India. They rarely go over 20-25%. So, lacks of Indians spend scores of years of their lives in Jail without ever being convicted of any offence.
And this state of affairs is not new. It has been this way since independence and the situation has been getting worse with each year of our independent existence. The reasons for the persistence (and continuous worsening) of this situation are many. India has one of the lowest Judge-to-population ratios in the world, worse than many third world countries, leave alone the developed world. The ratio ranges from 13 to 15 Judges per million population as compared to a developed country average of 53 per million or more.
If one considers only Judges dispensing criminal Justice the ratio is even worse. In Delhi this ratio was a little over 8% in 2009. A connected factor is the horrendously low investment that the nation makes in creating and maintaining its Justice system. In 2009 magistrates in Delhi, one of the better funded states, had an average case load of 8,769 cases. It hardly needs saying that it is humanly impossible for any errors to deal effectively and efficiently with such a burden, leave alone the poorly trained and equipped Indian Magistracy.
Though the case load of the Sessions judges (including the additional Sessions Judges) is much lower, at an average of 317 cases in 2009, one must not forget that these cases are almost all complicated ones requiring protracted trials. The facts and figures cited here may seem a bit unreal or overstated to the average reader of this column but I assure you that at the conclusion of the 66th year of its independent existence vast numbers of ordinary Indians live under a threat of roomful or unjustified arrest and incarceration.
Many of them are not criminals and, further, most of those who have committed offences do not deserve to be incarcerated since they are guilty of petty and, even, available offences. As the National Police Commission pointed out in its third report over three decades ago, a very large number of arrests, and subsequent detention in Jail, happen as part of police corruption and criminality. Of course, the flip side of this fact is that many of those who ought to be arrested and detained escape such fate. In both cases freedom suffers.