The Supreme Court while hearing a suo motu writ has directed the States and the Centre to address the Court on the steps and modalities to set up new jails or expand the existing facilities for health care and hygiene, particularly relating to women who are lodged in jails.

Pertinently, on January 30, 2024, the Court had directed the States and Union Territories to set up committees to initiate steps to examine the requirement of expanding the existing jails and acquiring land to set up new jails, depending on the current capacity, occupancy and future demands, and come up with firm proposals. The Committees were also directed to take an update on the status of all the ongoing projects/proposals that are pending and ensure that milestones are set down for completing the ongoing projects.

The concerns raised were of the increasing instances of women inmates in jails getting pregnant in the State of West Bengal. The Calcutta High Court had earlier taken suo motu cognizance in the matter highlighting that the women prisoners while in custody are getting pregnant and at present there are as many as 196 babies staying in different prisons of West Bengal. A suggestion was thus made before the High Court seeking prohibition of entry of male employees in the Correctional Home into the enclosures of the women prisoners.

Consequentially, a bench comprising Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah observed, “…besides the members identified by this court to be a part of a committee in each State and UTs in terms of para 7 of the order passed on January 30, 2024, a senior most judicial officer in the District may be included as part of the committee to give a fair assessment of the available security measures/hygiene measure/health care infrastructure/welfare of women prisoners in jails/barracks in each District. The said committee shall also include a Superintendent of Women Jails/Women Barracks wherever possible".

The bench had appointed Senior Advocate Gaurav Aggarwal as the amicus curiae in the matter.

During the arguments, Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora appearing for the State submitted that several prisons have only women staff and that there are no males at all.

Justice Amantullah then remarked that the particular fact makes the situation even worse. However, Arora further submitted that every single situation has been dealt with and said that there are abundant security provided through CCTV cameras installed at various places across jails in the State.

Then Advocate Aggarwal submitted,"...Committee feels that immediate measures are required to including recruitment of Home Guards etc and then the Committee can immediately recommend it to the District Magistrate rather than waiting for Chief Secretary or order of this court...".

"Home Guard can be deputed anywhere”, said Justice Amantullah

In the January 30, 2024 order, the bench had directed, "Each State Government/Union Territory is directed to set up a Committee comprising of (i) Principal/District Judge (Chairperson of the District Legal Services Authority), (ii) District Magistrate (Incharge Administrative Head of the District on Executive Side), (iii) Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Police, (iv) Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority and (v) Superintendent(s) of Jail. The said Committee shall be notified by the State Governments/Union Territories within one week from the date of receipt of this order. The Secretary of the DLSA shall be the convenor of the Committee. The Committees shall convene the first meeting within two weeks from the date of their constitution".

The bench will hear the matter next on April 9, 2024.

Cause Title: Re-Inhuman Conditions In 1382 Prisons