Manipur High Court Chief Justice PV Sanjay Kumar along with Justice Ahanthem Bimol and a team of High Court Legal Services Committee (HCLSC) and State Legal Services Authorities and media paid a surprise visit to Manipur Central Jail, Sajiwa on Saturday.
During the visit, the Chief Justice launched a campaign to provide legal assistance to convicts at the Manipur Central Jail, Sajiwa. He interacted with the inmates and informed them about the free legal aid being offered to deserving inmates.
The campaign aims to inform convicts about their rights as well as the role of the Legal Services Authority in order to minimise their vulnerability. There are a total 160 convicts out of 817 prisoners in Sajiwa Jail.
Gaiphushillu Golmei, registrar general of the High Court of Manipur; Ojesh Mutum, member secretary of MASLSA; Yumkham Rother,Registrar (judicial); Athokpam Shanta, registrar (Vigilance); Bineshwori Maibam, additional member secretary of MASLSA; L Shurchand, deputy registrar (i/c protocol) of the High Court of Manipur, Pro-Bono advocates and Panel Lawyer of HCLSC attended the launch of the campaign.
The pro-bono advocates and panel lawyers of HCLSC interacted with the convicts and explained to them the judicial process and the stages through which their case may pass.
MASLSA member secretary Ojesh Mutum said that the main issue of convicts that needs redressal are lack of legal information and awareness about the right to appeal and its processes and availability of free legal aid; difficulties in engaging lawyers; lack of information about the status of their appeal/ SLPs/ bail applications; lack of interaction with the lawyers representing them before supreme court and high court and lack of knowledge and information of Parole, Furlough, Remission etc and it processes.
While interacting with different inmates who are under trial and convicts, it was found that four foreigners are staying in the Sajiwa jail after completion of conviction periods.
Among the four, one from China was convicted for two years but has been overstaying for one-and-half years. Another from Taiwan, who has completed four years conviction period, was staying for another six months, while one from China was in unsound condition and hence kept at a separate room and another from Myanmar is under trial period. There are also several inmates other inmates from Myanmar in the jail, it was informed.
Regarding foreigners in jail, the Chief Justice told the media that documentation has to be obtained from the government of the country of which they need to be deported. There is a lot of paperwork to be done and with lack of paperwork, foreigners are stagnating and imprisoned long after expiry of jail terms, he said.
“I have already taken up the issue with the secretary of state legal service authority for documentation,” the Chief Justice said. He also said that human beings have constitutional rights and all may not be available to them but Article 21 is available to them and there is clear violation of that right.
"So, we need to take up with the government who needs to speed up the process with other governments so that the documentation is obtained immediately and that the foreigners can be deported either back to the country that they have come from or any other country which has given them refugee status," he said.
The Chief Justice further said, "Inmates who have been convicted or under trial are human beings like the rest of us. We need to recognise that they have certain rights even if they are in prison; we need to value and respect their rights... Manipur, being a poor state, we can’t have high expectations of the living condition of the prisoners but that they are in fairly good condition.”
Kumar also said the situation is not very bad. There is always scope for improvement and it will be very good if the state government can provide funds for maintenance of buildings and facilities where they can learn vocational skills that will be useful to society, he said.
“There is a certain aspect that will also need to take special note, i.e., there are inmates who are mentally unstable. There is also fear of them doing either harm to themselves or to others but even if they are such people, we need to see that they are kept segregated and that we treat them with all possible humanity,” the Chief Justice told the media.
Regarding the inmates, SP of the jail, Sorokhaibam Bhadrika assured to see some measures so that the rights of mentally unstable, sick patients are respected, the Chief Justice informed.
“I examined the medical reports of those inmates and there is a proper diagnostic report,” he added.
While interacting with inmates, some inmates also informed that they have stayed longer than their terms as they are unable to pay surety while some of them do not have lawyers or counsels.
The jailers also informed that many families refused to take back their family members who had been convicted under POCSO despite having served their terms.
The jail has turned into a rehabilitation centre for drug users. When approached, a 24-year-old boy told this reporter that he was a drug user but he was picked up by a police team. He did not commit any criminal offence except he used heroin (drug) and has been staying in the jail for about four months, he informed.
While checking his identity, it was seen that an FIR under section 379 IPC in the theft case was filed against him at the City Police Station and hence, he was jailed.