The Supreme Court on Thursday came down heavily on the Centre for not taking appropriate steps itself for ensuring speedy trial for undertrial prisoners but "criticising" the criminal justice system and the judiciary for it.
Making hard-hitting observations, a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said the government authorities do not want to do their work and instead criticise criminal justice system for the problems.
"Nobody wants to work and they criticise the criminal justice system. MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) just criticises the criminal justice system but they do not want to do any work. Tell your people to stop criticising criminal justice system and judiciary," the bench, also comprising justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, told the Centre's counsel.
The court's observation came after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, appearing for the Centre, placed before it a note of MHA which contained possible reasons for large number of undertrial prisoners in the country.
The court was hearing a matter related to deficiencies in jails as highlighted by two apex court judges, one of whom has retired, during their visit to Faridabad jail and an observation home in June this year. The bench, while referring to the MHA note, told Aman Lekhi that one of the reasons given there was that the trial courts were functioning slowly.
"Again the judiciary is to be blamed. Everybody is to be blamed except MHA," the bench said, adding, "Unfortunately, we (Supreme Court) are always right but still nothing is happening".
The bench also asked why courts should tell the government how to do its work.
"It is like heads, we win, and tails, we win. That is the answer of the Government of India so far as judiciary is concerned," Justice Lokur observed.
Aman Lekhi told the bench that the government was not working in isolation and he has never said that judiciary should be blamed for all this.
To this, the bench said, "Yes. You have not said so but your client (government) has said so".
The ASG told the court that there were 164 vacancies in the Central Forensic Science Laboratories (CFSLs) across the country and process was underway to fill up the posts.
He said that out of 167 vacancies, 97 were for scientific posts while the other 67 were technical posts.
Regarding vacancies in forensic science laboratories (FSLs), he said so far the Centre has received information in this regard from 19 states only.
"Some states have not given us the information. We have been pursuing them very vigorously. All states are party here," he said.
The bench noted that several states, including Rajasthan, Goa, Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, have not yet given information to the Centre with regard to filing up of vacancies in FSLs.
"We direct the states to provide information to the Union of India at the earliest," the bench said.
It noted that in states like Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the vacancies in FSLs were around 50 per cent while in Uttar Pradesh, it was around 80 per cent.
The court asked MHA to file an affidavit indicating the time line within which vacancies in CFSLs would be filled up.
With regard to the issue whether observation homes, where minors in conflict with law were kept, and juvenile justice boards (JJBs) were equipped with video-conferencing facilities, the ASG said they were awaiting the response from the Ministry of Women and Child Development on this issue.
He said that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has also written to all the state governments for information about video-conferencing facilities in JJBs.
Advocate Gaurav Agrawal who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter told the bench that retired apex court judge Justice Amitava Roy, who is heading a committee on jail reforms, has been provided with sufficient space to carry out his work at the office of Bureau of Police Research and Development here.
On November 22, the apex court had pulled up the Centre for the pathetic condition prevailing in jails across India and wondered whether prisoners were considered as humans "in the eyes of the authorities".
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