India’s Prison Population
Access of prisoners to courts fell by 65%, and to hospitals by 24%, according to the report of Prison Statistics India (PSI) 2020, the latest official statistics on the state of India’s prisons and their inmates, published in December 2021.

Prisoners’ visits to courts came down nearly a third, from about 44.5 lakh in 2019 to 15.5 lakh in 2020.

Impacted too was inmates’ access to health services, with the number of visits, made by prisoners for medical attendance, declining from 4.77 lakh in 2019 to 3.63 lakh visits in 2020, said the report, adding, visits by medical personnel to prisons also reduced from 24,524 in 2019 to 20,871 in 2020, while visits by judicial officers nearly halved to 9,257 in 2020 from 16,178 in 2019.

The PSI 2020 presents a grim picture of the state of prisons through the pandemic. Despite the many efforts to decongest these institutions, and minimise the risks of contagion inherent in these overcrowded places, their overall condition has not improved.

About 9 lakh more arrests were made in 2020, and, taken at December 2020 in terms of absolute numbers, the prison population grew 1.5% from 481,387 to 488,511 inmates, the report said, adding, the annual increase is particularly worrying; given that 2020 was a Covid-19 year when a slew of decongestion efforts were being implemented across the nation. However, the total number of people entering and leaving prisons in the course of the year fell from 19.02 lakh in 2019 to 16.31 lakh in 2020.

The report said, as of December 2020, nationally, overcrowding stood at 18%, a marginal reduction of 2 percentage points from the previous year. This figure is the national average across 1,306 prisons. In nine (Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maha-rashtra, Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh) states overcrowding rates are more than the national average.

Much of this overcrowding is accounted for by the presence of ‘under-trials’. Their share has increased from 69% in December 2019 to 76% in December 2020; showing that for every 1 convicted prisoner, there are 3 people in custody awaiting ‘investigation, inquiry or trial’.

According to the report, this follows a long-term trend. Five years ago, in 2016, under-trials accounted for 68% of the prison population. As with all preceding years, a majority of prisoners come from amongst the poor and illiterate. Besides chronic overcrowding, other long term co- morbidities in the prison system have persisted and indeed worsened.

The report noted, across the country and despite this period traversing a pandemic, the shortage of medical officers and staff continues; and, in some states, their numbers have, in fact, gone down. Nationally, vacancies among medical staff and officers stand at about 33%, which means 1 in every 3 posts has not been filled.

There were 797 medical officers in the country’s prisons to serve nearly 489,000 inmates. On average, this means each medical officer was looking after 613 inmates. However, the Model Prison Manual 2016 requires there to be 1 medical officer for every 300 inmates. From January to December 2020, total deaths went from 1764 in the previous year to 1887. The deaths remain categorised as ‘natural’ ‘unnatural’ and ‘cause not known’, and deaths related to Covid-19 have not been disaggregated.
IJR, Mumbai (Courtesy: Counterview)

My name is Faiza and I am a teacher. I teach children how to code and design apps. My students are from all across the country and even the world. I wish there was a code to counter the hate that is growing in our country today.

My hijab is my choice. No one has a right to say what I can or cannot wear. Our Constitution upholds and protects my right to practise my religion and not be discriminated against.

Over the last few days and weeks, several young Muslim women have been denied entry into classrooms. They have been denied education based on their choice to wear a hijab. After Udupi, more Karnataka colleges closed doors to students wearing hijab.

Disallowing students to enter classrooms based on clothing which is an essential practice of their religion is against the law of the land, the Constitution.

50 Crore Workers
India has been witnessing declining economic growth for long, even before the pandemic, however, the most vulnerable sections of Indian society have had to bear the brunt of its adverse effects. In last two years, the wealth of the 10 richest men in the world doubled, while 99% of the world’s people are worse off. Also, there are 53 million unemployed people as of December 2021 (7.9% unemployment rate) and a huge proportion of them are women. Apart from that, amongst the total employed population, 43.7 crore workers are in the unorganised sector, who are legally not covered by social security benefits.

While many governments spent vast amounts of money to revive their economies; loan and interest waivers, spending on social security to compensate citizens for job and other losses and to improve health outcomes and so on. India, on the other hand, spent far too little and the Budget 2022 saw virtually no change in allocations for health, food security, pensions, employment, insurance and so on and saw decreased spending for some sectors, such as MNREGA. Indian Social Security Legislations and ILO Convention 102 of 1952 mandates following 9 indicators for comprehensive Social Security Benefits: 1. Medical Benefit, 2. Sickness Benefit, 3. Unemployment Benefit, 4. Old age Benefit, 5. Employment Injury, 6. Family Benefit, 7. Maternity Benefit, 8. Invalidity Benefit, and 9. Survivor’s benefits

Out of these, 8 indicators are covered in ESIC, and 3 Indicators are covered in EPFO and Employees compensation Act. Currently, these benefits are enjoyed by only 2% of the employed workforce (mostly from organised sector). Therefore, Working Peoples’ Charter (WPC) demands that these Social Security benefits must be extended to all unorganized workers rather than applying ineffective fragmented welfare schemes. To understand its implications on the budget, WPC had done Financial Proposal for a National Social Protection Floor for Informal Workers in 2017. As per this exercise, the state required Rs 3.5 Lakh crore (approximately) at roughly 2.3% of the GDP (2016-17) to provide a national social protection floor for more than 40 crore informal workers and their families. Considering the drastic changes in the economy and the labour market due to pandemic shocks, WPC is envisaging to revise this exercise with more comprehensive approach by including newly formed sectors and invisible workers.
Working Peoples’ Charter, Mumbai

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Vol 54, No. 36, March 6 - 12, 2022