DNIS News Network - N.H.R.C.’s guidelines (for welfare of mental health of prison undertrials and convicts) were triggered by a mentally ill undertrial who languished in prison for 19 years, without being convicted of the murder charges against him
The National Human Rights Commission (N.H.R.C.) was asked by the Delhi High Court to frame guidelines for the safety and upkeep of mentally ill undertrials. (See news 'N.H.R.C. to ensure upkeep of mentally ill undertrials', April 15, 2005.) This step was taken in view of the mentally ill undertrial, Charanjit Singh’s, case.
Research into the case highlighted some shocking facts. Charanjit Singh was arrested on murder charges in 1985. Aged 55 at the time, Charanjit Singh was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in judicial custody; hence, the trial could not proceed any further.
Due to his inability to comprehend the proceedings of the trial, the lack of adequate medical care and further deterioration of physical and mental health and negligence, Charanjit Singh languished in prison, without being convicted, for 19 long years. His family members refused to take surety of him and the prison became his only shelter. During this long period of judicial custody, his ailments compounded and he developed renal malfunction and cancer. In 2002, the N.H.R.C. stepped in to rescue him from his relentless prison life and asked the court to quash all charges against him, under Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to live with dignity. A lawyer was employed by N.H.R.C. for this work. Though the court did nullify charges, the question of his future refuge remained unanswered. A non-governmental organisation took charge of his medical expenses for a while but later withdrew due to scarcity of funds.
The Delhi State Government could have washed its hands off of Charanjit Singh once the charges against him were quashed. That would have landed him in a worse state with nowhere to go and no money to avail of medical care. However, the Government agreed to take care of Charanjit Singh’s medical needs even if criminal proceedings were annulled.
To avoid recurrence of such cases, the Delhi High Court asked N.H.R.C. to frame guidelines to prevent/treat mental illness in prison inmates and undertrials. These guidelines were accepted by the Delhi State Government, and are on their way to being implemented.