71 % prisoners are awaiting trial in India. They are not yet proven guilty but they have spent often years at length in detention. This has contributed to prison overcrowding that results in desperate living conditions.
The Undertrial Review Committee is an oversight mechanism that is headed by a judicial officer and find representation from the district administration, probation, police and prison departments. They periodically visit jails to conduct reviews of cases of undertrials who have visibly stayed longer in prison than necessary. The mechanism calls upon these actors to guarantee fair trial rights as enshrined in the Constitution and other statutes to those who have not been able to exercise them. As regards the mandate of such committees, it has been recommended time and again by judiciary and by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the form of advisories to have review bodies set up in order to prevent unnecessary detention of undertrial prisoners languishing in jails for long periods.
We work extensively in Rajasthan with the higher judiciary and Prison Department to regularize and improve the mechanism by developing evidence-led studies on its current functioning. We constantly engage with the stakeholders to propose amendments in the functioning of the committees so as to make it more inclusive of vulnerable categories like petty and young offenders and mentally ill and foreign national prisoners. We train the prison officials to maximize participation in the committee and strengthen efficiency. We advocate for the creation of State Monitoring Committees to monitor the functioning of the mechanism. In West Bengal, we facilitate inter-agency coordination to advocate the formation and formalization of this mechanism. We strongly believe that ensuring well-functioning of undertrial review mechanism will reduce the numbers and detention period of those awaiting trial.