Saturday, Jun 14, 2003
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By A. Subramani
His jailmate, M. Panneer, arrested by the Kasimedu police here, has been languishing since April 2. Not just the two, hundreds of other undertrials remain in the central prisons and sub-jails of Tamil Nadu serving far beyond the term their offences actually carry.
According to prison sources, for at least 70 reluctant guests enjoying hospitality in the central prison here, the only way of getting out is completion of trial. For, even if they move court and obtain bail they will have none to furnish a surety. Without surety, they cannot be legally enlarged on bail.
As the police, who slapped innocuous charges on these under the CP Act and the CA Act, thought their job was over with getting them remanded to judicial custody and failed to file charge sheets in time, even the trial has not commenced. A trial cannot commence without the police filing the final report/charge sheet.
Most `offenders' booked under these two Acts either pay the fine in court or, in chargesheeted matters, plead guilty and get released after a couple of weeks of imprisonment. Of course, those having the means to find surety obtain bail and taste liberty.
But hundreds of `guilty petitions' preferred by the inmates could not be taken up by even prison adalats, as the police had not filed charge sheets, says V. Kannadasan, counsel for prison adalats. "It is not fair to punish these petty offenders and prolong their stay in prison for the fault of the police", said another adalat advocate, who cited many instances of magistrates themselves having released undertrials in unchargesheeted cases on their personal bond.
A mechanical job
Magistrates command immense power in bail matters, and an accused is supposed to furnish sureties and bonds `to the satisfaction' of the magistrate concerned. Instead of exhibiting a will and grit, dispensing with surety requirements in deserving cases, many magistrates mechanically extend the remand for undertrials without even going through the charges and the circumstances leading to the arrest, laments an advocate.
Citing specific Supreme Court guidelines, Mr. Kannadasan said that at least in cases in which detention had exceeded the actual quantum of punishment for the offence for which a person was arrested, the magistrates should exercise their discretion more assertively and order the release of the accused on bail.
Compared to the plight of such petty criminals, offenders facing charges of murder and robbery, are well off.
For, if a charge sheet is not filed within 90 days in a case of murder (only 60 days in case of robbery), the accused can be released on statutory bail. But here again one should have somebody to furnish a surety.
The forgotten case of petty offenders serving a much longer jail term than they actually deserve is made worse by a combination of factors including lack of awareness of undertrials' rights.
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