Dy Chairman Rajya Sabha launches CHRI publications, calls for legal awareness, media partnerships

December 17, 2019

New Delhi, India

The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha has called for media partnerships with civil society and stakeholders, especially vulnerable groups, to help develop legal literacy and understanding of fundamental rights.

“Awareness grows as a result” leading to impact on the ground and hope for those incarcerated without access to legal aid or the funds to furnish bonds, said Mr. Harivansh, who is a BJP MP from Chhattisgarh and former editor of Prabhat Khabar.

Launching the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI) new publications- 101 Questions on Prisons and Looking into the Haze- Second National Report on Prison Monitoring in India on 16th December 2019 in New Delhi, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha paid tribute to CHRI’s body of robust research and advocacy which provided tools for the media to use and for stakeholders to spread information. He cited from the reports to show how changes had come about in just three years between the publication of a precious report and the current one. 

Looking into the Haze - Second National Report on Prison Monitoring in India is CHRI’s second national report on the functioning of the prison oversight body, Board of Visitors. It provides an analysis and evaluation of data received from 29 states/UTs for 491 prisons in response to applications filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005. 

CHRI’s research has shown that in most of the states, the BOVs (Board of Visitors) and NOVs (committees of Non-official visitors), which form an important part of the prison oversight mechanism in the country, are non-functional:

  • Only 24.2% prisons out of 491 prisons (that provided information in response to CHRI’s RTI applications), had a BOV constituted. Also, these BOVs showed 80% non-compliance in holding meetings.
  • Out of the 491 prisons surveyed, only 52% had NOVs appointed but, on average, these failed to visit a prison nine times out of 10
  • Most states are in near-complete disregard of the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines and standards of ‘Model Prison Manual 2016’ in terms of the implementation of the mechanism of the BOVs.

Justice Madan B. Lokur, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and Member of CHRI’s Executive Committee said that a punishment of imprisonment only puts restriction on the right to free movement and therefore the prisoners are entitled to all other rights including humane treatment. He added that an oversight body like Board of Visitors, is crucial to look into these aspects of prison administration.

101 Questions on Prisons is a booklet that aims to provide answers to 101 most frequently asked questions on prisons. CHRI hopes that the resource will be useful not only for prisoners and their families but also those who work within and on prisons. It has been published in Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and English.

Through 101 Questions on Prisons, Shri Harivansh noted that CHRI aims to generate public interest on prisons. The report on prison monitoring and the consultation was a step ahead in CHRI’s almost 20-year journey of strengthening prison oversight mechanisms.

The launch was preceded by a day-long consultation on Strengthening Prison Oversight in India  which was addressed by stakeholders including representatives of prison departments and legal services authorities from 11 states, civil society representatives, and a representative of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The consultation focused on a functional prison oversight mechanism, policy initiatives and future strategies to improve oversight of the country’s prisons. The prison oversight mechanism consists of Board of Visitors (BOVs) which is a statutory body comprising of official and non-official visitors who are mandated by the state prison rules to regularly visit the prisons and oversee the conditions of the prison and the prisoners. This body plays an important role in ensuring transparency and aiding the prison administration in better management.

State officials asserted that home departments in the states should be divested of powers to constitute Board of Visitors, since the challenges and problems of the prisons were not a priority for these departments. They also urged that such committees should be helmed by district or sessions judges and monitored in each state by a high court judge, preferably the administrative judge/executive chairperson of State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) in association with the state director general (DG) of prisons

There was a lack of consensus on the efficacy of Board of Visitors (BOVs), mandated prison visiting bodies including official and non-official visitors, and committees of non-official visitors (NOVs). However, the group agreed that prison quality and supervision could improve and empathy for prisoners and prison staff could develop, including building of capacity, with regular visits.

For more information or any queries, please contact Madhurima Dhanuka, Programme Head, Prison Reforms Programme at madhurima@humanrightsinitiative.org or Siddharth Lamba, Project Officer, Prison Reforms Programme at siddharth@humanrightsinitiave.org