'The main reason for the deaths is trust.'
K Kesavan, an advocate and joint secretary of the Centre for Protection of Civil Liberties, has moved a Public Interest Litigation in the Madras high court that several undertrials and convicts died in various Tamil Nadu prisons due to lack of medical attention.
The court has directed the additional home secretary to furnish all material relating to the custodial deaths of 137 prisoners in 2012-2013 to the member secretary of the Tamil Nadu Legal Services Authority. The next hearing is on June 3.
Kesavan spoke to A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com about the issue.
What is the source of your information about the deaths in the prisons of Tamil Nadu?
I got the information through a Right to Information petition. Based on that report I filed the PIL.
Could you give us some numbers?
I have the numbers of people who died in prisons since the year 2000. It is as under:
Doesn't every prison have doctors?
Doctors are sanctioned for every prison. Every prison has two doctors, one psychologist, one pharmacist and staff nurses, both male and female. But these are not enough.
In 2008 the National Human Rights Commission came out with a modern prison manual.
It says for medical care the central prisons should have one chief medical officer who is an MD. He should have seven assistant surgeons along with six staff nurses and six regular nurses.
There should be three lab technicians and 1 pharmacist. There should be two psychiatrist counselors with one assistant.
There should also be five specialists in general surgery, orthopedics, dermatology, gynecology and dentistry.
What compensation is the family entitled to when a prisoner dies in custody? Does it apply when the death is natural?
Natural deaths are not entitled to compensation. When the death is due to negligence, then the government gives Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) as compensation.
What is the procedure that the jail authorities have to follow when a prisoner dies in custody?
They have to follow the procedure laid down under Section 176 (1-A) of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code). A magisterial inquiry has to be conducted. The report has to be sent to the government. Then action has to be taken according to that report.
So far compensation has ranged from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000). This is paid from the collector's fund. They can recover the money from the prison officials also.
Out of 137 prisoners who died in custody in 2012-2013, only three have received compensation. How much compensation did they get? What about the rest?
Three were paid Rs 1 lakh each and 22 are said to be natural deaths. They are waiting for the collector's report in 110 cases.
Does the family get compensation automatically or do they have to claim it?
Compensation is decided by the government. The family cannot claim compensation unless the death is suspicious and responsibility is fixed.
What is the main reason according to you for prisoners dying in custody?
The main reason is trust. Officials do not trust the prisoners.
When a prisoner is sick and he says so, officials do not believe him.
In the case of a heart attack, timely help is not provided. They send the prisoner to a hospital in an ambulance without a doctor accompanying them.
Doctors should be available in the prison at all times.