Court grills Delhi govt over posting law officers in jails

From August 2016 to February 2019, no law officer was appointed at the prison headquarters, reports Tehelka Bureau

The Delhi Government has been asked by the Delhi High Court to respond on a plea seeking posting of law officers in all jails in the national capital. A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani has asked the Delhi Government and Director General of Prisons to submit a reply and has fixed the matter to be heard on August 29.

The court was hearing advocate Amit Sahni’s public interest litigation who has sought directions to Delhi Government, ensuring compliance of Section 6 of the Delhi Prison Act, 2000, by appointing one law officer for every jail in Delhi. The Act mandates that there shall be a law officer, a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, a medical officer and a welfare officer for every jail.

There are 16 jails in Delhi in three prison complexes- Tihar, Rohini and Mandoli. Tihar includes nine jails, Rohini has one, while the Mandoli prison complex has six jails. The petition also claimed that from August 2016 to February 2019, no law officer was appointed at the prison headquarters and the legal affairs were dealt with by an officer equivalent to the rank of a deputy superintendent.

Section 6 of Delhi Prisons Act, 2000 provides that every prison shall have a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, a medical officer, a law officer, a welfare officer and such other officers as the government thinks it necessary. The plea said the jails in the state are over-crowded and a law officer for every prison would result in a better administration.

“There are 16 jails in Delhi and law officer (headquarters) is looking after legal matters of all 16 jails, including legal work pertaining to the headquarters. The legal work cannot be handed over to officer with ad hoc arrangement. Since the beginning, Tihar Jail is overburdened and despite setting up seven new jails outside the Tihar Jail campus, prisons in Delhi are overcrowded, thereby resulting in a stressful environment for officers and staff,” the plea said.

“Further, the burden is created by the respondents by not recruiting law officers for every jail as per the mandate of the statute i.e. Delhi Prisons Act, 2000. It is not only in the interest of the prisoners but also in the interest of better management of Tihar Jail to have a law officer for every jail under the respondent,” it said.

The plea said there is a superintendent, a deputy superintendent and a medical officer for each jail but the respondents have not complied with the mandate of section 6 of Delhi Prisoners Act, 2000 for reasons best known to them.

“The respondents (government of NCT Delhi and Director General of Prisons, Tihar) are duty-bound to comply with the mandate of Delhi Prisons Act, 2000 in its letter and spirit,” it said.

The petition said that the appointment of a law officer was necessary to supervise all legal matters, draft and file replies to the court, follow up on cases, appear in court along with the government counsel, co-ordinate with branches of the department for compliance with directions of courts and maintenance of monthly statistics of court cases among others.