[Right to Health] Delhi High Court issues directions to ensure mental and emotional health of prisoners

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed under Article 226 read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’) seeking quashing of order dated 18-01-2023 passed by the respondent rejecting the application of the petitioner seeking parole, and further seeking direction to the respondent to release the petitioner on parole for a period of 08-weeks for engaging a counsel of his own choice for filing Special Leave Petition (‘SLP’) before the Supreme Court. Swarana Kanta Sharma, J., issued directions regarding mental and emotional health of prisoners who have been incarcerated for long periods. The Court also directed that the petitioner be permitted to meet a private counsel of his choice either through jail meeting/mulakat or through video conferencing for the purpose of filing Special Leave Petition.

The petitioner has been in judicial custody since 21-06-2013 i.e. for about 10 years and 02 months and has not been granted either bail/interim bail or furlough or parole during this entire period.

The Court noted that on perusal of the parole rejection order it is clear that the respondent has rejected the parole application mainly on three grounds. Firstly, the petitioner was awarded a major punishment on 18-10-2021, and in view of Rule 1210 (II), parole cannot be granted to him. Secondly, as per the nominal roll, the overall jail conduct of the petitioner had been unsatisfactory since the year 2013. Thirdly, as per the police verification report, the petitioner was previously involved in about 10 other cases. Thus, the overall jail conduct of the petitioner is reported to be unsatisfactory due to 13 punishments awarded to the petitioner, starting from 02-08-2013 till 19-01-2023, during the period of his judicial custody of about 10 years.

The Court further noted that the last punishment awarded to the petitioner is of 19-01-2023, which is one day after the impugned order rejecting the parole application of the petitioner was passed by the respondent. Thus, the petitioner is barred by Rule 1210 sub rule (II) of Delhi Prison Rules, 2018, thus disentitling himself from seeking parole.

The Court directed a private counsel of his choice to be permitted to meet the petitioner either through jail meeting/mulakat or through video conferencing for the purpose of filing Special Leave Petition. The Court further directed the Jail Superintendent to ensure that the petitioner has access to the Jail Visiting Advocates and the In-charge, Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee (DHCLSC) is also directed to ensure that the present petitioner is provided with legal aid assistance for the purpose of filing SLP before the Supreme Court against his conviction.

On the aspect of balancing long period of incarceration with Right to Mental Illness of prisoners, the Court noted that in case a convict in prison repeatedly indulges in behaviour of indiscipline and commits acts contrary to the prison rules and conduct to be followed by the inmates, it cannot be ignored or overlooked, as other inmates may follow it too, presuming it does not invite any serious consequences. If discipline is to be maintained in the administration of prisons, the Court has to balance its discretion in such a manner that the benevolence and affection of the Courts for kindness and leniency is not taken advantage of.

The Court observed that the convicts as the present one, who due to their long incarceration have also been repeatedly indulging in objectionable acts, need regular counseling and psychological help through various therapies as a person’s mental health issues due to one factor or another may have driven him to again repeatedly indulge in the acts of indiscipline and violating the prison rules to invite punishment. This also reflects that his confinement in prison has not served fully the purpose of his reform.

Thus, the Court laid directions in this regard as follows:

i. In case a convict in prison shows signs of mental health issues which are reflected through his behaviour, the administration concerned should bring it to the notice of psychiatrist posted in the prison.

ii. Prison Administration including medical officers should be sensitized with regard to identifying and dealing with issues of mental and emotional health of inmates.

iii. In case a convict is repeatedly being punished inside the prison, the administration may, in appropriate cases, refer inmate’s case with promptness to the psychiatrist posted in the prison and provide appropriate remedial course of action for the same.

iv. In case a convict is found to be experiencing such mental and emotional health issues in prison, counseling or alternate therapies and meditation facilities be provided to the inmate.

v. An SOP be prepared, detailing the course of action to be followed including the mode and manner of providing alternate therapies and provision for the same be made for such facilities in the prison itself in this regard, the Government of NCT of Delhi will provide the infrastructure and funds.

vi. All the prisons in Delhi should have a counselor/psychiatrist posted throughout the year who will be available to a convict who identifies or recognizes his own emotional or mental health issue or it is identified by the concerned Superintendent Jail/Warden, who will produce such inmate for consultation/counseling before the psychiatrist.

vii. In addition to the existing occasional programs in the prison premises, the DSLSA is directed to include programmes for conducting workshops, which will act as mental health therapies for the convicts in prison. The DSLSA should ensure that instead of having one or two programs of this nature, it should be a regular feature so that the convicts, throughout the year, have access to benefit of such programmes conducted by DSLSA.

[Sartaj v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4764, decided on 07-08-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Faraz Maqbool, Advocate (DHCLSC) with Ms. Vismita Diwan, Ms. Sana Juneja, Mr. Chandan Kumar and Mr. Chinmay Chatterjee, Advocates for the Petitioner;

Mr. Sanjeev Bhandari, ASC (Crl.) for the State with Mr. Kunal Mittal and Mr. Saurabh Tanwar, Advocates, with Inspector Amarjeet Singh, P.S. H.N. Din, Delhi. Mr. Sushant Bali, Amicus Curie.

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