In its proceedings of March 25, NHRC once again noted that there are “serious human rights violations” and directed the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh to file a report within 6 weeks. The statutory body also took suo moto cognisance of the hunger strike by seven prisoners
BHOPAL — Following persistent complaints of torture and denial of basic rights of prisoners in Bhopal Central Jail, the National Human Rights Commission has issued fresh directions to the Madhya Pradesh government regarding compliance with its recommendations. Representatives of human rights groups met Chief Secretary Iqbal Singh Bains and DG (Prisons) Arvind Kumar on April 6 and 7 urging action and compliance with the NHRC recommendations.
The NHRC had conducted an investigation in June 2017 and found instances of torture and abuse of prisoners and denial of basic rights to a group of prisoners accused of SIMI related offences. The investigation team had recommended action against jail officials, compensation to family members as well as several measures to ensure basic necessities to prisoners.
However, the state government has not complied with the NHRC directives despite several reminders. In proceedings on March 25, 2021 the NHRC once again noted that there are “serious human rights violations” and that “all the recommendations of the enquiry team must be complied with by the state authorities” while directing the Chief Secretary to file a report within 6 weeks. The NHRC also took suo moto cognisance of the hunger strike by seven prisoners and expressed serious concern, noting that the state cannot deny basic human rights to prisoners of whom they are the lawful custodians.
A national delegation of human rights activists met the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh and the Director General of Prisons regarding the urgent situation of 28 prisoners in Bhopal Central Jail who are suffering physical and mental torture for the last four years. The delegation comprised of Madhuri Krishnaswami (PUCL), Abdul Wahid Shaikh (Innocence Network), Masood Ahmed (Coordination Committee) and Fawaz Shaheen (Innocence Network). In the meetings that took place on April 6 and 7, they submitted a memorandum asking for urgent compliance with the NHRC’s recommendations and detailing the specific reliefs required.
Findings of the investigation
The NHRC investigation had found that evidence of physical assault, illegal solitary confinement, mental torture through sleep deprivation, criminal intimidation and religious antagonism, denial of basic necessities like adequate water, adequate clothing, etc.
Prisoners were confined to isolation in tiny cells, and let out only to fill water. These cells did not even have fans. Prisoners were suffering from skin disease, mental disorders and were not provided medical care. They had no access to newspapers, books, pen, paper, etc. They were not allowed to meet visitors according to norms.
Since these conditions are in violation of legal norms and Supreme Court guidelines, the investigation team has recommended action against jail authorities, compensation to family members, relief from solitary confinement, a grievance redressal mechanism and ensuring basic necessities relief like food, water, newspapers, reading and writing material, clothing etc.
The state government sent a response denying the findings of the investigation. However, in its proceedings on March 25, 2021 the Commission pointed out that this response was prepared by the Superintendent, Central Jail, and “it can be very well understood that he will deny all the allegations” since the report holds the jail officials culpable. The Commission directed that “all the recommendations of the enquiry team must be complied with by the state authorities itself”. Besides, the Commission also directed the Chief Secretary to submit an appropriate response within six weeks.
Since September 2020, seven prisoners have been on hunger strike. One prisoner was on continuous hunger strike from September 25 till the beginning of this month, while six others at different points between September 2020 and April 2021. Their demands, which have been termed as “illegal” by the jail authorities, include proper food, simple rights like newspapers, writing materials, regular mulakat (visitor rights), stopping desecration of the Holy Quran by the jail staff, being allowed to sleep at night, etc. On October 19, 2020, the NHRC directed that in view of the pandemic, it is necessary that prisoners are provided proper food so that their immunity level remains satisfactory as is also required by WHO and ICMR guidelines.
Despite multiple court orders the prisoners have also been denied confidential meetings with their defence lawyers, which is a basic tenet of their right to have a fair trial with adequate representation.
It is a matter of serious concern as well as dismay that the Madhya Pradesh government has ignored the findings and recommendations of an important statutory body like the NHRC, with such impunity. We also urge the NHRC to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with its recommendations and to ensure that the basic constitutional and human rights of the 28 prisoners are protected and violations are strictly punished.