The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court has granted Rs. 5 Lakh as compensation to the legal heirs of a deceased who was a under-trial prisoner in a murder case. Allegedly, a co-prisoner inside the Central Jail, Srinagar, murdered the deceased.

“…it is clear that even though the deceased was an under trial in a murder case, the respondents were not absolved of their liability to ensure his safety and security in the jail. A prisoner cannot be deprived of his constitutional rights except in accordance with law… His untimely death has deprived the petitioners, who happen to be the widow, sons and daughters of the deceased, of his love and affection as also his company, as such, they are entitled to compensation from the respondents whose negligence has resulted in his untimely death”, observed a bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar in the matter.

Senior Advocate Z. A. Qureshi appeared for the petitioner, and Senior AAG Mohsin S. Qadir appeared for the respondents.

As per the averments made by the petitioners-legal heirs of the deceased Mohammad Ismail Shah, the deceased was lodged in Central Jail, Srinagar, as an under trial for offences under Section 302, 109 Ranbir Penal Code.

Pursuant to which, while in custody in the jail, the deceased was attacked by a co-prisoner, as a result of which he received fatal injuries and he died in Central Jail, Srinagar. An FIR was registered for an offence under Section 302 RPC and investigation of the case was conducted by the police.

However, since the investigation was not taken to its logical conclusion, the said writ petition was disposed of by the Court on May 22, 2013 with a direction to the investigating agency to complete the investigation. Subsequently, a challan was filed against the accused before the Sessions Judge, Srinagar, on July 29, 2013, which is pending.

Therefore, the petitioners contended that the State and its functionaries failed to discharge their legal duty to protect his life, which resulted in murder the jail premises itself.

While opposing the plea of the petitioners, the respondents submitted that all measures regarding the safe custody of the prisoners were taken and the jail inmates were not allowed to keep any prohibited article in their possession.

Therefore, considering the relevant submissions and the evidence produced by the parties, the bench observed, "From the material on record, it is clear that when the deceased was in custody, his homicidal death took place when he was attacked by co-prisoner. Thus, his death can safely be termed as ‘custodial death’. It is true that the respondents have launched prosecution against the co-prisoner for having caused death of the deceased but that does not absolve them of their responsibility to ensure the safety of the deceased who was lodged in the jail at the relevant time".

"The fact that the respondent State has failed to properly manage the jail barracks and allowed condition of the same to deteriorate to such a level that a co-prisoner was able to take out a stone/brick from the wall, shows clear negligence and callousness on the part of the respondents. This negligence and callousness on the part of respondents has resulted in death of the deceased inside the jail. The jail authorities have, therefore, failed to ensure safety and security of the unfortunate undertrial prisoner. Therefore, respondents cannot escape their responsibility for the custodial death of the deceased", the judgment further read.

The Court while referring to Saheli v. Commissioner of Police, (1990) 1 SCC 422, and Nilabati Behera alias Behera alias Lalita Behera v. State of Orissa, AIR 1993 SC 1960, granted an amount of Rs.5 lakh as compensation considering that the deceased was 48 years old at the relevant time. and the fact that his children are major.

Cause Title: MST. Jana & Others v. State Of J&K & Another

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