Amnesty International India today blamed governments for more than two thirds of prisoners in the country being undertrials and advocated strict enforcement of existing laws and policies to ensure their rights.
Successive governments had acknowledged the problemof 'excessive' undertrial detention, but had not done enough to address it, Amnesty said here.
This was stated in a briefingtitled 'Justice Under Trial: A Study of Pre-trial Detention inIndia' on the state of undertrials/pre-trial detainees inIndia released at an event.
It said the country has one of the highestundertrial populations in the world with 67 per cent ofprisoners as of December 2015 being undertrials.
Blaming governments at both the state and the Centre for this, it said unless existing laws and policies were strictly enforced, and the legal aid system was reformed, the rights ofthousands of undertrials would remain at risk.
India's undertrial population was estimated to be the 18th highest in the world and the third highest in Asia.
Amnesty said the country's undertrialpopulation has a disproportionate number of Muslims, Dalitsand Adivasis, compared to their share in the overallpopulation, while 29 per cent of undertrials were not formallyliterate.
To assess the effectiveness of various legal safeguards to prevent excessive undertrial detention, between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International India said it filed nearly 3,000 Right to Information applications with every district and central prison in the country and various state government departments.
It said while several prisons did not respond to theRTI queries, responses from those did reveal major failures in the treatment of undertrials by the criminaljustice system.
Noting that safeguards under law to protect undertrials were regularly ignored across the country, the briefing said few prisons appear to know how to accurately determine which undertrials were eligible for release under section 436A of CrPC (maximum period for which an under trial prisoner can be detained).
Legal aid lawyers not visiting prisons regularly,shortage of police escorts leading to thousands of undertrialsnot being produced in court for their hearings effectively prolonging their detentions, and Home Ministry guidelines being virtually ignored by many prisons were among "the findings" that have been highlighted in the briefing.
Pointing at the shortage of police 'escorts' to take undertrials to court for their hearings, it said between September 2014 and February 2015, in over 1,10,000 instances, undertrials were not produced for their hearings in court either in person or through video-conferencing facilities.
This ineffect hampered their right to trial within a reasonabletime.
In most states, legal aid lawyers visited prisons less than once a month, it said, adding that many states have relatively few legal aid lawyers, compared to their undertrialpopulations.
The briefing also makes several recommendations to authorities at both central and state levels, including standardisation of the remuneration paid to legal aid lawyers across India, establishment of a database to alert prison authorities about undertrials eligible for release.
It also calls for strengthening of the monitoring oflegal aid lawyers' effectiveness, and creation of a separatereserve of police personnel dedicated to providing escorts forundertrials to be taken to court.