Thursday, August 24, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Treat prisoners equally: HC
By Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, Aug 23 — Bringing down the curtain on the practice of some prisoners being more equal than others, the Punjab and Haryana High Court here has quashed the provisions of Punjab Jail Manual dividing prisoners into A, B, and C classes after holding that “there cannot be any classification of convicts on the basis of their social status, education or habit of living”.

Holding paragraph 576-A of the manual to be “unconstitutional”, the High Court observed: “There is no justification for the continuation of prevailing system of classification of prisoners into class A, B and C”.

The order is significant as “influential” undertrials and convicts have reportedly been “languishing in luxury” in some jails. Otherwise also, a graduate or an income tax payee gets bedding, kitchen facility, milk and dry ration. A servant is also provided for four or five persons.

In a nine-page order, the single-Judge Bench observed: “There cannot be any doubt that a convict is a convict, a murderer is a murderer. There cannot be any difference in the gravity of their offence. A person who is affluent and influential and has committed a murder has to be treated in the same manner as a poor person who has committed the same offence”.

The court also observed: “There cannot be any discrimination between these two persons because one is born in a poor family and another in a rich family. Both have to be treated alike and the laws have to be applied equally”.

“A person who is born in rich family cannot be provided with more protection or more facilities and comforts under law. If different standards are applied to the persons on the basis of their social status, education or mode of living to which they have been accustomed to, it does not mean that all are treated alike”.

It also ruled: “If different treatment is given to the rich and the poor based on their social status, education or superior mode of living, it amounts to saying that all men are created equal except the poor and the uneducated....”

Quoting the Constitution, the court noted: “Article 14 provides equality before the law. According to it, the state shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India.... Article 15 (1) provides that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. The Preamble seeks to secure to all its citizens, justice — social, economic and political — and equality of status to all”.

“A reading of the Articles clearly shows that there cannot be any discrimination among the persons similarly situated and there cannot be any discrimination on the ground of place of birth.... It can safely be stated that the persons who are similarly placed or circumstanced are entitled to equal treatment”, the Bench added.

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