In furtherance of the last five years of Symbiosis Law School Pune’s work in the Yerawada Prison and initiative by Hon’ble Chancellor Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, SLSP [a constituent of Symbiosis International (Deemed University)] hosted a One Day Law and Policy E-Round Table Discussion, with special focus on Delayed Justice to Prisoners in India: Issues & Challenges, on the 8th of May, 2021 from 2P.M – 5 P.M. IST via the video conferencing platform Zoom. The roundtable highlighted the issues of inmates languishing in the jails of India and proposed recommendations in the form of an outcome document.
The Inaugural Ceremony commenced with the welcome address by Dr. Shashikala Gurpur, Fulbright Scholar, Director SLSP, Dean, Faculty of Law, SIU. She mentioned that SLS-P’s efforts in the Yerawada Prison have been driven by the pitiful situation of the undertrial and often innocent prisoners who continue to languish helplessly for years in prison. With help of our legal Aid Clinic set up in the Yerawada Central Prison and in collaboration with Pune District Legal Services Authority, SLS-P was able to make a difference in the lives of those people who were imprisoned for petty crimes. Dr. Gurpur further pointed out the issues such as continued incarceration of undertrials, declining mental health, overcrowding of prisons, special issues of women and child prisoners and the lack of integration of foreign prisoners. She highlighted how these issues are further amplified due to improper maintenance of prison data. In addition, how these issues continue to inspire SLS-P’s efforts in championing the cause of Prison reforms.
After the Welcome Address, Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, Hon’ble Chancellor, Symbiosis International (Deemed University) delivered the Chancellor’s Address. Dr. Mujumdar mentioned how the initiative behind the Yerawada Prison programme was motivated by the moving article by Dr. Srijan Pal Singh. He emphasised on the urgent need for young lawyers and legal practitioners to champion prison reforms in India by stating “We should take an active role in saying that injustice is one of the causes of unfair trials.” He also stated that such reforms are especially required during pandemic, as overcrowding and congestion can lead to grave consequences.
The address was followed by a presentation by the Community Legal Care & Literacy (CLCL) Team faculty members of SLS-P comprising of Adv. Sangramjeet Chavan, Ms. Aditi Mane and Ms. Chaitraly Deshmukh. The team jointly presented a point position power point presentation highlighting the efforts by the CLCL Team towards providing free legal services and organisation of legal awareness camps across six villages in Pune. The paper also provided a Statistical Analysis, conducted atthe National, State and District level, about the occupancy V/S the Capacity rate of the actual prisoners in the jail and the being large in number than the literal capacity of the Jail. The presentation further harped the point of maximum number of prisoners being undertrials which leads to overcrowding of the prison. Lastly, the team provided pertinent recommendations such as Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for matters of bail, reduction in stringency in granting bail for the socio-economically lower strata’s, and better implementation of parole and probation, amongst others.
Thereafter,the Guest of Honor, Mr. Srijan Pal Singh, the Founder of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Centre, Delhi, highlighted four issues that requires dire attention. It includes incarceration of the innocent, disproportionately high punishment for the guilty, substandard quality of life in prisons and the practice of incarceration for minor issues punishable in different ways. He opined that community service must be encouraged and technology such as ankle bracelets for monitoring of petty criminals, geofencing should be preferred as an approach towards punishment. He highlighted that, “Jails are not torture chambers, they are meant for reforms”.
This was followed by Plenary Session 1, on the theme ‘Discussion on International Law, Comparative Law and Policy Approaches to Problems and Issues Faced by Innocent Prisoners Languishing in the Jail,’ was conducted. The guests for the Session included, Justice (Retd.) Dr. Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi, Bombay High Court, Mumbai, Mr. Sunil Chauhan, Director NALSA, Dr. S.C. Raina, Former Vice-Chancellor, HPNLU, Simla, Dr. Arvind Tiwari, Dean of School of Law, Rights and Constitutional Governance, TISS, Mumbai, Mr. Srijan Pal Singh, Founder of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Centre, Delhi, Dr. Anirban Chakraborty, Associate Professor, NALSAR and Mr. Bhushan Kumar Upadhya, IPS Officer, (D. G. Prisons and D. G. State Traffic Branch, State of Maharashtra). The plenary session was followed by the question-and-answer session and discussion moderated by Dr. Shashikala Gurpur.
Plenary Session 2 on the theme ‘Discussion on Analysis of Data, Case Studies and Global/Indian Best Practices on Innocent Prisoners Lingering in the Jails in India based on Empirical Studies including Prison Courts and Clinics,’ witnessed valuable inputs from Mr. Srijan Pal Singh, Founder of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Centre, Delhi, Dr. Arvind Tiwari, Dean of School of Law, Rights and Constitutional Governance, TISS, Adv. S. K. Jain, Criminal Law Advocate, Pune, Mr. Bhushan Kumar Upadhya, IPS Officer, (D. G. Prisons and D. G. State Traffic Branch, State of Maharashtra), Dr. Harish Shetty, Mental Health Expert, Mr. Sunil Chauhan, Director NALSA and Ms. Monica Dhawan, Director of the Prison Programme, India Vision Foundation. The plenary session was followed by the insightful discussions in the form of question-and-answer session moderated by Dr. Shashikala Gurpur.
The two plenaries were followed by comments put forth by Prof. Dr. Atmaran Shelke, Associate Professor, SLS-P wherein he pointed out the problems of undertrials that require reforms at four levels viz at the arrest level, at the stage of custody, during custody and after the duration of custody.
Dr. Gurpur presented the concluding remarks, noting that the emerging themes and pertinent areas of discussion in the Roundtable included the Project protection to innocence, requirement of better coordination between different fragments of law enforcement, provision of quality legal advice to all and the need for society to shift its perspective, stating that, “we as democracy have come of maturity, let us shed our retributive approach and move on to reformative approach”.
The roundtable discussion ended with the vote of thanks delivered by Prof. Kshitij Naikade, Assistant Professor and Deputy Director, Administration, SLS-P.
With the plethora of knowledge being shared by the dignitaries, the enthusiastic event came to an end by successfully delivering the message of upliftment of the majority of our population out of poverty, and how it is the responsibility of the state to take care of the vulnerable individuals who have been denied access to justice. Subsequently, compensation not being the sole theory of ensuring justice, one major take away from the roundtable was, harping on opportunities for training and skill development to be quintessential to help the prisoners earn a livelihood once they are released.