Expressing concern over the increasing number of undertrial prisoners in jails across the country, the government has urged the high courts to take suo motu action for their release after they complete half of their likely term.
Section 436A of the CrPC provides that if an undertrial has completed half of the likely term he is likely to get for the crime he has allegedly committed, then he or she can be granted bail with or without surety. It is not applicable on offence for which the punishment of death has been specified as one of the punishments under the law.
In a recent letter to chief justices of the 24 high courts, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that they should advise the district judiciary to review all such cases and take suo motu action for their release. “I shall also be grateful if the high court ensures that the undertrial review committee mechanism, for periodic monitoring of undertrial releases, continues to effectively deliver its mandate, so that the basic human rights of the undertrials are not undermined,” he wrote.
In September 2014, the Supreme Court had said that states should release all such undertrials who come under the ambit of Section 436A of the CrPC. According to National Crime Records Bureau estimates, 67% of the people in jails are undertrials — those not yet convicted of any crime.
At 82.4 per cent, Bihar had the highest proportion of undertrials, followed by Jammu and Kashmir at 81.5, Odisha at 78.8, Jharkhand at 77.1 and Delhi at 76.7.
Successive Union Law Ministers and Union Home Ministers have been regularly writing to high courts and state governments to review the status of undertrials.