Delhi High Court: In a case wherein a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (‘PIL’) was registered in respect of the well-being of the family members of under trial prisoners as well as convicts, the Division Bench of Satish Chandra Sharma, C.J., and Sanjeev Narula, J., opined that various departments and ministries including Ministry of Skill Development, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Ministry of Rural Development, etc. were actively implementing social and developmental schemes and the dependents of prisoners were eligible to benefit from these programs. However, the Court issued directions to increase awareness and publicity of the existing schemes, ensuring that prisoners and their dependents were informed and could readily access the respective benefits.
The Court noted that a preventive and strategic programme/campaign was undertaken by the National Legal Services Authority (‘NALSA’) for the welfare of family members of jail inmates titled, “A Campaign for Legal Assistance to the Family Members of the Prisoners”. The features of this programme included formal interactions with jail inmates and family members, follow-up action on the concerns raised in the said interactions irrespective of the location of the inmate and family, and assistance in availing benefits under government schemes. The campaign’s target group included convicts, with remaining imprisonment of six months or more, and undertrials, having continuous detention for one year or more.
The Court was apprised of the Scheme titled, “Scheme for Financial Sustenance, Education and Welfare of Children of Incarcerated Parents, 2014” (‘2014 Scheme’) framed by the Department of Women and Child Development, Government Delhi, which was specifically designed for financial support, education, and welfare of children with imprisoned parents. The Court, after reviewing the 2014 Scheme found that the 2014 Scheme primarily focused on the children of convicts, leaving out other family members. Moreover, it only catered to convicts residing in Delhi for the past five years. The Court after ecognizing these limitations, emphasized on the need for a nationwide scheme that would benefit all family members of incarcerated individuals, regardless of the prisoner’s location or where the family resided.
The Court observed that Ministry of Women and Child Development (‘Ministry’) was currently executing a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, the “Integrated Child Protection Scheme” (‘ICPS’), which was designed for children both in conflict with the law and those who required care and protection, which included children of incarcerated women. Through ICPS, financial support was extended to State Governments and Union Territories, which facilitated several initiatives. Among these were children’s homes that offered shelter, food, and education and they provided medical care, vocational training, and counselling.
The Court further observed that all these efforts aimed to ensure successful reintegration of such children into society. Additionally, the Ministry had also introduced the “Scheme for the Welfare of Working Children in Need of Care and Protection” and this initiative offered non-formal education and vocational training to children, assisting them to join or re-join mainstream education, especially if they previously had their education interrupted.The Court took note of another program called “Atal Vayo Abhyudaya Yojana” (‘AVYAY’), spearheaded by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which was tailored for senior citizens, specifically, elderly parents of prisoners who met the eligibility criteria, could avail the benefits under the AVYAY scheme.
The Court opined that various departments and ministries including Ministry of Skill Development, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Ministry of Rural Development, etc. were actively implementing social and developmental schemes and the dependents of prisoners were eligible to benefit from these programs. The Court further opined that there were already many relevant schemes for the welfare of family members of prisoners, which were currently in operation and thus, the Court held that it was inclined to close the present proceedings. However, to increase awareness and publicity of the existing schemes, ensuring that prisoners and their dependents were fully informed and could readily access the benefits the schemes offered, the Court issued the following directives:
The Joint Committee of Government of Delhi was mandated to draft its recommendations regarding the 2014 Scheme and once formulated, these recommendations must be acted upon and implemented.
NALSA was assigned the responsibility to organize campaigns akin to “A Campaign for Legal Assistance to the Family Members of the Prisoners”, whereby he purpose of these campaigns was to offer support to the family members of incarcerated individuals. A concerted effort must be made to broaden the scope of these campaigns, aiming to reach the maximum number of prisoners and undertrials.
Prison authorities must prominently display details of welfare initiatives for families of convicts and undertrials. This information should be accessible through various mediums, such as physical notice boards, newsletters, and official websites. Additionally, a system should be established to ensure that this information was communicated to relatives and visitors during their prison visits.
NALSA was also entrusted with facilitating specialized informational sessions in prisons. These sessions should aim to equip convicts and undertrials with detailed knowledge of welfare schemes beneficial to them and their families. Beyond mere dissemination of information, the sessions should also provide guidance on how best to utilize these welfare schemes. To bolster these efforts, prison authorities were encouraged to not only employ the expertise of the prison staff but also consider the formation of volunteer groups comprising of convicts and undertrials. These groups could play a pivotal role in assisting fellow inmates in tapping into the benefits of the available schemes.
To ensure the efficacy of the welfare schemes and campaigns, prison authorities should establish a feedback mechanism. This would allow convicts, undertrials, and their families to provide inputs on the benefits and challenges of the schemes, helping to refine and improve them over time. This feedback should be shared with the authorities concerned.
Considering the digital age, authorities should also explore the feasibility of developing a mobile application or a dedicated web portal, which could provide comprehensive information on welfare schemes, step-by-step application procedures, and offer digital counselling or assistance towards availing benefits under welfare schemes.
[Court on its Own Motion v. Union of India, W.P.(C) 1481 of 2015, Order dated 10-10-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Respondents: Mr. Dayan Krishnan, Senior Advocate (Amicus Curiae); Mr. Anuj Aggarwal, ASC; Mr. Kirtiman Singh, CGSC; Ms. Ayushi Bansal, Ms. Arshya Singh, Mr. Aakash Dahiya, Mr. Waize Ali Noor, Mr. Varun Rajawat, Ms. Shreya Mehra, Ms. Vidhi Jain, Mr. Neeraj Chaudhari, Mr. Madhav Bajaj, Advocates