The Gauhati High Court has directed the Assam government to pay compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to the next of kin of the prisoners who died unnatural deaths while in jail within 30 days.
The direction was issued by a division bench of Chief Justice Ajit Singh and Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua on 4 June.
The Telegraph reported that the state government of Assam informed the High Court that there were 16 unnatural deaths between 2012 and 2016 in different jails across the state. Out of these, the state government reportedly paid compensation only to the next of kin of two prisoners as per the direction of the Assam Human Rights Commission as well as the High Court and in remaining 14 cases, no compensation has been paid yet.
The High Court heard the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) following direction from the Supreme Court “with a view to identify the next of kin of the prisoners who have admittedly died an unnatural death during the period between 2012 and 2015 and even thereafter, and award suitable compensation, unless adequate compensation has already been awarded,” The Sentinel reported.
In September 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Chief Justices of all High Courts to suo motu register petitions to identify the kin of prisoners who died unnatural deaths from 2012 and order the States to award them compensation.
“It will be appreciated that merely because a person is accused of a crime or is the perpetrator of a crime and in prison custody, that person could nevertheless be a victim of an unnatural death. Hence the need to compensate the next of kin.” Justice Lokur, who authored the 43-page verdict, wrote. The judgment was passed taking cognizance of a letter addressed to the apex court in 2013 by its former Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti on the deplorable conditions of 1382 prisons across the country.
The payment from the year 2012 was chosen because National Crimes Records Bureau has records of unnatural deaths from that year.