[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court by its judgment dated February 1, 2019, held that “Rule 481 of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983 is unconstitutional to the extent it provided for deduction of 50% of the wages from the prisoners”.
A division bench of Justices K K Saisidharan and G R Swaminathan further ruled: “It is open to the Government to provide for a lesser and reasonable percentage of deduction which would be in accordance with the law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”
The petition was filed as public interest litigation (PIL) by Mr K R Raja against the deduction of 50% of the wages earned by the prisoners for up-keeping of the prisoners and further crediting 20% of the wages to the prison fund to be paid to the victims. The petitioner, Mr K R Raju, in his PIL prayed that:
“Writ Petition is filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, to issue a Writ of Declaration, to declare the Rule No.481 of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983 to the extent of 50% of the wages earned by the prisoners deducted for up keeping of the prisoners and 20% of the wages credited to prison fund to be paid to the victims, as illegal and against law and justice, consequently to direct the respondents to increase the prisoners wage in the State of Tamil Nadu credited to the prisoners cash property account from 30% to at least 75% within the time stipulated by this Court.”
Rule 481 of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983, reads as follows:
- Utilising wages earned. – (1) The prisoner who is under the wage-earning scheme shall be given the discretion to have his earnings at his credit or to have it sent to his next of kin outside the prison. If the exercise his option to have its earnings at his credit, be shall be given the option to revise his discretion at any time in favour of sending his total or part of his earnings to his next of kin.
(2) The prisoner shall be permitted to draw for purchase of articles required for his personal use such as cigarettes, soap, oil, etc., not exceeding a sum of Rs 10 per month. The list of articles required shall always be got approved by the Superintendent.
(3) No prisoner shall be permitted to transfer his earnings at credit to another prisoner.
Article 23 of the Constitution of India which reads as:
23.– Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour: (1) Traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law
(2) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purpose, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.
History of prisoners’ wages
Prison laws in India are neglected and have remained untouched for the longest period of time. Prisons in India are plagued with myriad problems and prisoners are subjected to malpractices and degrading treatment. However, after independence, the Government of India appointed many Committees to prepare report on comprehensive accounts of what ails the prisons, and, to suggest measures. Yet, the issue of remuneration for the work done by prisoners was not brought up in any of the reports submitted by the prison reform Committees.
Again in Dharambir v. State of UP, AIR 1979 SC 1595 the Supreme Court reiterated that “we think that when prisoners are made to work, as these two ought to be under our directions, a small amount by way of wages could be paid and should be paid so that the healing effect on their minds is fully felt. Moreover, proper utilisation of services of prisoners in some meaningful employment, whether as cultivators or as craftsmen or even in creative labour will be good from the society’s angle as it reduces the burden on the Public Exchequer and the tension within.”
Then finally, the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment in State of Gujarat v. High Court of Gujarat, (1998) 7 SCC 392, composed detailed directions on the remunerations given to the prisoners, the Supreme Court held that (Madras High Court in the current judgment also relied on these principles laid):
“50. The above discussion leads to the following conclusions:
(1) It is lawful to employ the prisoners sentenced to rigorous imprisonment to do hard labour whether he consents to do it or not.
(2) It is open to the jail officials to permit other prisoners also to do any work which they choose to do provide such prisoners make a request for that purpose.
(3) It is imperative that the prisoner should be paid equitable wages for the work done by them. In order to determine the quantum of equitable wages payable to prisoners, the State concerned shall constitute a wage-fixation body for making recommendations. We direct each State to do so as early as possible.
(4) Until the State Government takes any decision on such recommendations, every prisoner must be paid wages for the work done by him at such rates or revised rates as the Government concerned fixes in the light of the observations made above. For this purpose, we direct all the State Governments to fix the rate of such interim wages within six weeks from today and report to this Court of compliance of this direction.
(5)We recommend to the State concerned to make law for setting apart a portion of the wages earned by the prisoners to be paid as compensation to deserving victims of the offence, the commission of which entailed the sentence of imprisonment to the prisoner, either directly or through a common fund to be created for this purpose or in any other feasible mode.”
Prisoners’ wages at present
At present every State in India has its own remuneration policy. There is no uniform remuneration scheme for prisoners’ wages among the different States in India. As per the 2015 Prison Statistics, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2017, the highest wages are paid to the prisoners by Puducherry which is Rs 180, Rs 160 and Rs 150 per day to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled convicts, respectively. This was followed by Delhi which is Rs 171, Rs 138 and Rs 107 per day to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled convicts, respectively; whereas Manipur and Mizoram pay their convicts the lowest wages which is as little as Rs. 12 to Rs. 15 per day.
Why deduction from prisoners’ wages?
In State of Gujarat (supra.) the Supreme Court held that “if wages at the rates fixed under Minimum Wages Act (1948) are paid to a prisoner without making any such deduction, its net effect would be that he gets wages apparently more than the emoluments of a workman who does the same type of work outside the jail. This is because the latter has to meet his expenses for food and clothes from the minimum wages paid to him”. This allowed the State Government to deduct remunerations of the prisoners for the expenses incurred by the government for food, clothes and other amenities of the prisoners.
Further, the Supreme Court also asked all States Government to devise a mechanism so that victims of the crimes could be compensated. The provision was conceptualised and inserted a new Section 357A to the Criminal Procedure Code by way of the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008. Section 357 A reads as:
“Section 357A. – Victim compensation scheme: Every State Government in coordination with the Central Government shall prepare a scheme for providing funds for the purpose of compensation to the victim or his dependents who have suffered loss or injury as a result of the crime and who require rehabilitation”.
70 per cent deduction from Prisoners’ wages
In the present case, the Government of Tamil Naidu was deducting 70 per cent from the prisoners’ wages (50 per cent for the up-keeping of the prisoners and 20 per cent for the victim compensation). In a welfare state, a significant deduction from an individual’s wage without any justifiable reason is vicious and against human rights. The Madras High Court rightly held that the substantial deduction from the wages prescribed under the Prison Rules violates Article 23 of the Constitution.
This is mere recognition of the invisible violation and inhumane treatment that occur in prisons. There should be a uniform scheme of remuneration throughout the country. A range should be set in which deductions of the two categories can be made, keeping in mind the minimum wages and balance between rehabilitation of prisoners and compensation of victims.