PLEA IN SC ON VOTING RIGHTS OF UNDERTRIALS AND CONVICTS
19, Apr 2019
Prelims level : Polity & Governance Mains level : GS-II Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations
Why in News:
- The Supreme Court is hearing a plea filed by a law student questioning an electoral law which denies undertrials and convicts their right to vote.
- Section 62(5) of the Representation of People Act of 1951
- mandates that “no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.
- The provisions however exempt a person held under preventive detention from this rigour. The petition, represented by advocate Zoheb Hossain, highlights how the Section sees both an undertrial and a convicted person equally. The former’s guilt is yet to be proved in a court. A person is innocent until proven guilty by law. Despite this, it denies an undertrial the right to vote but allows a detainee the same. However, a person out on bail is allowed to cast his vote.
- The plea argued that the provision violates the rights to equality, vote (Article 326) and is arbitrary. It is not a reasonable restriction.
- Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.— The elections to the House of of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage; that is to say, every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than eighteen years of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature and is not otherwise disqualified under this Constitution or any law made by the appropriate Legislature on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election.
- The data on prison overcrowding are frightening. Except in parts of Europe, where crime is still low or at acceptable levels, overcrowding is rampant.
- In the U.S., for example, at any time, it is estimated, there are more than two million prisoners in state and federal prisons. In the U.K., the latest available data (July 2018) show a current prison population of approximately 92,500.
- In India, in the year 2015, there were nearly 4.2 lakh inmates in 1,401 facilities, with an average occupancy rate of 114% in most.
- About 67% of total inmates were undertrials, a commentary on the speed and efficiency of India’s criminal justice system.