On the opening day of the 2023 Union Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a significant announcement, promising to provide financial assistance to prisoners who are unable to pay bail amounts or fines. This is in line with the landmark judgement that “Bail is the Rule, Jail is an Exception,” which emphasizes the importance of preserving an individual’s right to liberty and freedom. The Indian Criminal Justice System recognizes the significance of bail in ensuring that accused persons are not kept in custody for prolonged periods while awaiting trial. Bail serves as a tool to protect an individual’s right to liberty, ensuring that they attend court appearances and do not flee the jurisdiction. It also allows them to prepare a proper defence and maintain their livelihood while their case is pending.
However, not all accused individuals have the financial means to pay the monetary surety required to secure bail. In these cases, the government’s decision to provide financial support to poor prisoners is a step towards ensuring that everyone has equal access to justice. By providing financial assistance, the government is helping to guarantee the right to life and liberty of all individuals, regardless of their financial status.
Overcrowding in Indian Prisons
The issue of overcrowding in Indian prisons is a well-documented problem. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2021 report, there are over 554,000 prisoners in Indian prisons, while the capacity is only 425,609. This results in high occupancy rates in certain states, with Uttarakhand having the highest rate of 185%, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. A significant portion of the prison population consists of undertrial detainees, whose guilt has yet to be determined by the court. In fact, 77% of all inmates are undertrial. This highlights the need for a fair and efficient legal system that can quickly determine the guilt or innocence of a person.
Furthermore, there are instances where prisoners who have served their terms remain in jail because they cannot afford to pay the fines imposed on them. This raises concerns about the justice system’s ability to provide a level playing field for all, regardless of their financial status. Additionally, there are many cases where individuals who have been granted bail cannot exercise this right because of their inability to pay the bail amounts.
In conclusion, the high occupancy rate and the disproportionate number of undertrial detainees in Indian prisons point to the urgent need for reforms in the criminal justice system. This includes providing financial support to prisoners who cannot pay the fines imposed on them, and ensuring that the legal process is fair, efficient, and accessible to all.
Decongesting of Prisons
In 2016, the Supreme Court of India issued a ruling in the case of “Re Inhumane Conditions in 1382 Prisons,” highlighting the urgent need to address the severe overcrowding in prisons. One of the most effective solutions to this problem is to grant bail to eligible inmates who are currently being held as undertrial prisoners. While various legal organizations do offer free legal aid to help with the bail process, there is still a need for additional support when it comes to paying the bail amount, particularly for those who are unable to do so.
To address this issue, the government can play a crucial role by providing financial support to pay the bail amount for eligible accused individuals. This not only benefits the government by reducing the cost of maintaining prisons, which was approximately ₹6727.3 Crores in India, but it also allows these individuals to reintegrate into society and support themselves and their families.
In short, the government’s involvement in paying the bail amount of eligible prisoners is a step towards addressing the inhumane conditions in prisons and reducing the burden on the criminal justice system.
Realizing the Issues
During the 2023 Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the government will provide financial support to pay bail amounts for financially disadvantaged prisoners. This will not only alleviate the financial strain for the prisoners and their families but also stimulate the economy by allowing the released individuals to reintegrate into society and support their families through employment.
The Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, previously addressed the National Legal Services Authority, stating that the Indian Criminal Justice System itself can be considered a punishment for accused individuals, with hasty arrests and difficulties in obtaining bail often leading to prolonged undertrial imprisonment. The current Chief Justice, D.Y. Chandrachud, has also prioritized bail matters and directed lower courts to grant bail to eligible accused individuals.
President Draupadi Murmu, the executive head of India, spoke on the issue of prisons and prisoners during her speech on Constitutional Day. She emphasized the need for India, as a civilized society, to reduce crime and the number of jails, rather than increase them. She highlighted the problems of overcrowded prisons, the social identity of those affected, and the issue of prolonged undertrial detention, which makes up a significant portion of the prison population. She emphasized that this problem can only be solved through a collaborative effort between the Executive, Judiciary, and Legislature.
Solving the Issue and Involvement OF Judiciary, Executive & Legislature
This issue can be resolved through the collaborative efforts of all three branches of government. The judiciary should prioritize granting bail in appropriate cases and not infringe upon an eligible person’s right to bail. This would serve as the initial step towards resolving the matter. As the keeper of prisoners, the judiciary should also consider the applications of eligible inmates and release them on minimal surety to reduce the burden on jails and the executive branch.
The executive branch should provide relevant data to the judiciary and legislature to aid in their respective roles in finding a solution. It is the responsibility of jail authorities to assist inmates in obtaining legal aid and proper counsel, increasing their chances of a proper defence. The executive should also provide inmate data to the legislature for financial aid to be given to deserving individuals who are in need and not to those who are ineligible or capable of paying their bail. The executive must prioritize aid for needy inmates.
Finally, the role of the legislature is to provide financial assistance to those who have been granted bail but are unable to pay the amount. The government has a responsibility to aid such individuals and help them exercise their rights. While the legislature cannot grant bail directly, it can aid those who are unable to pay for representation in court or those who, even after obtaining bail, cannot pay the surety to exercise it.
The government’s recent announcement to provide bail funds is a significant step towards promoting justice for all and addressing the issue of prison overcrowding. This will enable the undertrial detainees to secure bail and lead a normal life while receiving proper legal representation in their cases. To fully resolve this issue, effective collaboration and cooperation among the three branches of government are required, not just the government’s bail payment. The legislative branch should also reform laws and policies to ensure that every deserving individual has access to their fundamental rights. The ultimate objective is to guarantee the right to life and liberty to everyone, regardless of their financial situation, and to ease the burden on the criminal justice system. This initiative, as proposed in the Union Budget, is commendable and will greatly improve the lives of countless individuals.
Author(s) Name: Pradhyumn Kumar Ajmera (Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad)
 State of Rajasthan vs. Balchand 1977 AIR 2447; 1978 SCR (1) 535
 NCRB, Prison Statistics India 2021, Table 1.2 https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/PSI-2021/TABLE%201.2%20-%202021.pdf
 NCRB, Prison Statistics India 2021, Table 6.4 https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/PSI-2021/TABLE%206.4%20-%202021.pdf
 (2016) 3 SCC 700; (2016) 2 SCC(Cri) 170
 NCRB, Prison Statistics India 2021 https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/PSI-2021/TABLE%2012.3%20-%202021.pdf