A Tamil Nadu court has asked authorities not to transfer a prisoner lodged in Madurai Central Prison to any other jail for the remaining part of his punishment. Reason: His 92-year old mother—who lives near Madurai Central Prison—wants to visit her son in prison as often as possible.
The prisoner had sought the intervention of the court, fearing he would be transferred back to Central Prison Trichy where he had been serving his sentence previously.
“A convict prisoner is entitled to call upon the authority to house him in a prison where the rights conferred by the Mandela Rules can be better exercised. The choice of the convict prisoner can be governed by a variety of factors. One such factor can be the proximity of the prison to the place where his family resides. A prisoner is also a fellow human being and not a soul-less chattel,” Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court observed while directing the Inspector General of Prison and Additional Director General of Police to issue proceedings permitting the retention of the convict at the Madurai prison only.
“The petitioner has proved to be of good character. He has even authored a poetry book. His mother is 92 years old. She wants to visit her son as often as possible. The prison authorities have also recommended that the petitioner can be kept at Madurai permanently,” the court order read, adding that “Of course, if circumstances warrant, the authority is always at liberty to pass appropriate orders transferring the petitioner to some other prison.”
The rights of a prisoner must also be kept in mind, subject to other considerations of security, prison discipline and public interest, the court further observed. It also pointed out that these rights have been recognised in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) and also by the Model Prisoner Manual approved by Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
The test of proportionality
Emphasising on the need to maintain proportionality in its decision-making, the court ruled that there had to be a balance between the authority of the administration and the rights of a prisoner, even though a bare reading of the statutory provisions of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, 1983, among other statutes governing prison administration, gave an impression that the prison authority could decide where a prisoner would reside.
While asserting that the decision of the prison authorities was open to judicial review on grounds of proportionality, the court relied on the Supreme Court’s observations in Chairman, All India Railway Recruitment Board and Anr vs K. Shyam Kumar and Ors, where it held: “Proportionality requires the court to judge whether action taken was really needed as well as whether it was within the range of courses of action which could reasonably be followed. Proportionality is more concerned with the aims and intention of the decision-maker and whether the decision-maker has achieved more or less the correct balance or equilibrium.”
Convicts are persons too
The court also maintained that the expression “person” in Article 21 of the Constitution of India conviction or incarceration did not reduce a prisoner into a “non-person”.
Relying on the Supreme Court’s observations in Don Ayengia vs State Of Assam & Ors and Raja & Ors vs State Of Karnataka, to assert that prisoners too were entitled to certain fundamental rights, even though they were drastically reduced, the court pointed out that there was an obligation on the prison authorities to protect the human rights of prisoners.