An underlying issue of the controversial killing of eight alleged SIMI members after they broke out of a jail in Madhya Pradesh is the staff shortage in Indian prisons.
In the country’s jails, 34 percent of positions (27,227) were vacant as on December 31 2015, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of national prison statistics.
Of the 419,623 inmates across all jails nationwide, 282,076 (67 percent) are undertrials, whose cases take up to five years to come to trial, illustrating the slow speed of justice in India.
Questions have been raised about the encounter after the prison break, with many describing it as an extrajudicial killing.
As a demand is made for a court-monitored inquiry, the underlying issues are the poor condition of Indian prisons and the delays in trying those accused of crimes.
No state is as short of prison staff as Bihar, which has 2,654 of the 7,860 personnel it should have, a shortage of 66 percent, followed by Delhi (47 percent) and West Bengal (41 percent). In Madhya Pradesh, the shortage is 28 percent.
Overcrowding of Prisons Adds to the Problem
The capacity of Indian jails is 366,781, but there are 419,623 inmates in these jails–which means jails are filled 114 percent over capacity.
Dadra & Nagar Haveli jails were 277 percent over capacity, followed by Chhattisgarh (234 percent) and Delhi (227 percent).
67 percent of Indian Prisoners are Undertrials
High occupancy rates in jails can be linked to the large number of undertrials.
Of 419,623 inmates across jails nationwide, 67 percent (282,076) prisoners are undertrials - those detained in prisons during trial, investigation or inquiry - pointing to the slow speed of justice in India.
The large number of undertrials in India can be correlated to the lack of adequate judges in Indian courts, as lower-court vacancies are a leading cause of pending trials, IndiaSpend reported in September 2013.
In absolute numbers, Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of undertrials (62,699), followed by Bihar (23,424) and Maharashtra (21,667).
In Bihar, 82 percent of prisoners were undertrials, the highest among states.
Undertrial prisoners in India are equal to the population of the Caribbean nation of Barbados, IndiaSpend reported in October 2016.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the release of all undertrial prisoners detained for at least half the maximum sentence prescribed for the offences they were charged with. Many who were languishing in jails because they could not pay sureties and bail bonds benefited, IndiaSpend reported in May 2015.
Two million cases have been on trial for a decade or more as on December 2015, IndiaSpend reported in December 2015.
(This article has been published in an arrangement with Indiaspend)