The violent assault on undertrials by jail officials at the Colvale jail is a gross reminder that it is not enough for a prison to be “modern” or “model” in terms of architecture and equipment as Colvale was showcased by the state government to be. The jail must be safe and humane for the inmates as well. It is pointless telling the inmates they are being housed in a “good” jail and being beaten up severely for little or no fault of theirs. The violence took place as inmates from the Sada sub-jail, Vasco and Mapusa judicial lock-up were being transferred to the Colvale jail in accordance with the plan. The transfer was awaiting completion of the Colvale jail. Among the victims of the violence are foreigners, something that has brought global ill-fame to Colvale even before it has started off. However, from the point of view of human rights, it does not matter whether the victims were Indians or foreigners. Just as prison officials are expected to treat the Indian inmates safely and humanely, so are they expected to treat foreign inmates.
Our prisons mostly house undertrials. According to one estimate, 80 per cent of the prisoners are waiting for trial. The rest are convicts serving terms of sentence. Undertrials are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. They cannot be subjected to any punishment. For that matter, even the 20 per cent of the jail inmates who are convicts cannot be subjected to cruelties as prison is supposed to be a reformatory place for them. The prison officials are expected to treat them nicely in order to make them able to go out of the jail and earn their livelihood and mix with others in the society like a normal human being. Prison officials are agents of transformation. What the prison officials did at Colvale was brutal. It just indicates that it is the prison officials who need as much reformation as the prison inmates.
It is believed that the attack by prison officials had something to do with smuggling of items from outside for inmates. That brings into focus the corruption that marks prison administration. It is not uncommon for some prison inmates to get things from outside in collusion with some prison officials. That demands measures to curb corruption. The Colvale jail is supposed to have better systems for checking smuggling and possession of illicit items by prisoners. The state authorities must introduce foolproof monitoring of the activities of prison officials right from the gate to the wards. There should be policy directives for the prison officials. There should be more rigorous training of prison officials with regard to staffing, monitoring, information and complaint tracking in order to correct the failures of the type that lead to violence against prison inmates and to reduce the number of such incidents in the future. There should be strict criteria on which use of force should be allowed. It should also be laid down which rank of prison officials are authorized to order use of force against inmates. The prison officials who indulge in unjustified violence must be given exemplary punishment.
Judges Select Judges
The Supreme Court has struck down the constitutional amendment providing for the setting up of a National Judicial Appointments Commission to select and transfer judges in the higher judiciary. The verdict means that the selection of judges in the higher judiciary will be made by the collegium system in which the Supreme Court Chief Justice and other judges appoint judges. The Supreme Court rejected the amendment on the ground that the National Judicial Appointments Commission gives the government a substantial say in judicial appointments and interferes with the independence of the judiciary. The verdict is a great blow to the Modi government that had got the amendment passed through both houses of Parliament. There is some merit in the concerns of those who felt that the National Judicial Appointments Commission would have added the political element to appointment of judges. The commission was going to have the Union Law Minister as a member, so the concern that the government could try to impose its choices on the higher judiciary. At the same time, it has to be remembered that it is wrong for the judges of the Supreme Court to have absolute right to appoint members of the higher judiciary. Instead of the collegium system, the appointments to higher judiciary should be entrusted to an independent panel in which there are non-judge members (who are not ministers or officials or anyone connected with any political party) with very impeccable record. That would make judicial appointments more credible. The selection process should be transparent. The criteria for selection should be clearly laid down in detail, so that natural elimination of the undeserving takes place at the beginning stage.