Rights of Indian Prisoners and Implementation of Labour Regulation in Prisons

This Article focuses on the Rights of the Indian Prisoners in the light of International covenants and instruments. It also discusses upon the implementation of Labour Law in Prisons.

This Artice has been authored by Ms Ananya Pandey, a 4th year law student of Jamnalal Bajaj School Of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith Rajasthan.


 “No human being should be maltreated under any circumstances. We are all wonderful creations of God. May we affectionately love one another.”

India is a civilised country but still it has not managed to get the prisoner’s rights codified. There are more than1400 jails in India and in the absence of such legislations the laws are present only in paper and are still not practically followed by many jail authorities. It is also felt that the prisoners are not even aware of these rights and procedures and at times their rights get violated without the inmates even knowing. V.R. Krishna Iyer (J) has rightly observed

“In our world prisons are still laboratories of torture, warehouses in which human commodities are sadistically kept and where spectrums of inmates range from drift-wood juveniles to heroic dissenters”.

However with the passage of time the discipline got changed and there are some reforms that took place. The reforms gave prisoners many rights that are even recognised by the judiciary as well.

This research paper focuses on the conditions of the inmates in Indian prison and the violation of their fundamental and human rights. This Article will also focus on why there is a need for the betterment of the conditions of prisoners and why the protection of their human rights is a thing of vital importance. Author will also draw attention towards the condition of fair wages paid to the prisoners and implementation of labour laws. Further it will analyse the cognizance of judiciary towards the same and will end with a conclusion regarding the improvement of the prisoners and protection of their rights.


The word prisoner denotes any person that is kept under the custody in any jail or prison because of commission of any crime or any act that is prohibited under any law. Howsoever the prisoner has committed a crime it is established that it doesn’t make the person a non person and like all the other non prisoners he is entitled to rights, and that’s why the prisoners are given some basic rights that can’t be taken away by them. However the rights are not wholly absolute and are subject to certain restrictions.  The United States of America and the Supreme Court of India both have considered a prisoner to be both a natural as well as a legal person entitled to some rights. Some of the basic rights includes right to food, water, to have an attorney in order to defend him, rights against torturous acts, violence and harassment. Therefore it becomes a duty of the court that send such person behind the bars to ensure that detenues are free from any sort of violence and tortures, and to clinch and assure for any harassment behind the bars constitutional justice comes forth to uphold the same.
The term Prisoner is defined under Section 1 of the Prison Security Act 1992 – as “any person for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in a legal custody.” [1]

A prisoner is entitled to get some rights and in a country like India taking into account the evolution of laws and gradual development that took place it is expected that the conditions of the prisoners to be good but in actual scenario it’s not just. The reality is far more devastating. In India free legal aid is available to those who can’t afford the same, but in India majority of the prisoners are under trial. In the remand courts the remand is considered as a routine and the person applying for the same gets easily except for those who can’t afford the bail. A large number of under trial prisoners suffer extended internment  even in petty criminal matters, the reason being they are unable to furnish bail bonds even in case of bailable offences.

According to a report of National Crime Records Bureau in the 1400 jails of the country almost 68% of the inmates in the country are under trials, and among these under trials over 40% of them remains in jail for more than 6 months before their bail is released.
To talk further about poignant conditions the prisons are overpopulated by 250% and in contravention to the specifications of the UN specifications the cells of 8X10 feet houses 21 people that should ideally be of 6X12 feet per person.

The leading problems faced by the prisoners in India are – prolonged detentions in the cases of awaiting trials, not having enough opportunities for prisoners for communication with their administrators, councils and family, not being able to be granted bails, inhumane tortures of the warden, substandard sanitary conditions, and unavailability of adequate food and clothing.
because of such problems various contagious and non contagious diseases such as – HIV, Tuberculosis, and other vector borne diseases spread that makes the condition worse as the treatment is limited especially for the poor inmates.

According to a report approx 1.584 deaths were reported in the year 2015.Often incidents of mental and physical torture goes unreported and hence no accurate data of these can be found. More than 705 trials are indigent. Even after the bail is granted to them many a times they are not released from the jails as happened in the case of ‘Rudal Shah v. state of Bihar’. Also there is many a times a very high amount of surety order issued by the courts which poor prisoners are not able to pay. Also the prisoners face many problems due to insensitive attitude of jail authorities, and in addition to that there is lack of proper medical and legal aid and services. And at last the corruption and other malpractices can’t be ignored.

Rights of the Prisoners

International Human Rights Law-

They were made to protect people from all sorts of discrimination, torture, etc. They are available to people at large.

UN Charter

This was signed on 26th June 1945 in San Francisco and came into force in October 24 1945.
In this some vital and basic principles were adopted for the treatment of prisoners. Some of the principles were as follows-

  • Prisoners should be treated with dignity and must be treated and valued as other human beings.
  • There shall be no discrimination on the basis of race, cast, creed, colour, language, religion birth or any social; status.
  • The religious Beliefs of all the prisoners must be valued and respected.
  • Prisoners should retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in UDHR, ICESCR, ICCPR and other protocols.
  • Prisoner should be allowed to participate in cultural activities and must be undertaken for remunerated employment in order to aid their family financially.

International Bill of Rights

Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

This was started in 1948 to provide basic human rights to all people which was adopted by the United nations General Assembly. It provides administration of natural justice to all people. Some salient principles of the same are –

-No one to be subjected to cruelty, degrading treatment

-Every person has the right to life, liberty and security

-Every person who is charged with some offence has a right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

The International Convents on Civil and Political Rights 1966

This is considered to be the most pivotal instrumental treaty for the protection of the rights of the prisoners. Some important provision of this covenant are-

  • No person should be given any cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment or treatment.
  • No person shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.
  • On mere grounds of not being able to fulfil a contractual obligation, no person shall be imprisoned.

UN core conventions and Specific

This is also one of the foremost convention in regard to rights of the prisoners. Some basic rules set up by the act are-

  • The principle of equality must be followed
  • Men and women must be contained in separate barracks or institutions as far as possible.
  • The prisoners kept for commission of civil crimes must be kept separately with those who are kept for the commission of criminal offence also young inmates must be kept separated with the adult inmates.
  • Cruel or degrading punishments must be prohibited etc.

Indian law

There are several Fundamental rights that cannot be neglected available to prisoners. Under Part 3rd Article 21 read with article 19(1)(d) and article 19(5) gives itself a wider application along with Article 14. Article 21 protects a person from inhumane acts thereby preserving the person’s right to live a dignified and happy life. Also it gives right to fair procedure and freedom against an illegal detention. Article 19(5) however imposes certain restrictions. Together such rights constitutes for prison justice, whereby it is said by the Supreme Court that- the “conditions of detention cannot be extended to deprivation of fundamental Rights’[2]

Moreover, the rights enjoyed by prisoners, under Articles 14, 19 and 21, though limited, are not static and will rise to human heights when challenging a situation arises.[3]

Under Article 21 the prisoners are given the right to life that does not only mean ere animal existence but more than that. In the case of  Kharak Singh vs State of U.P [4] it was held that – The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or leg, or the putting out of an eye or the destruction, of any other organ of the body

through which the soul communicates with the other world. Article 21also includes right to live with dignity that is available to prisoners as well. No prisoner can be subjected to any callous treatment that will degrade his respect in any way and he must be provided with adequate food and clothing that is needed for his survival.

Right to medical treatment is also included in the ambit of Article 21 that is pronounced in the case of –Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoorsamity … vs State Of West Bengal[5] Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to provide medical assistance to injured person. Preservation of human life is of paramount importance.

Further under Article 21 right to speedy trial is also provided to the prisoners as the justice delayed is justice denied. The court held that the right to speedy trial flowing from Article 2, is available to accused at all the stages, namely, the stage of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and re-trial. The court further said that the accused cannot be denied the right of speedy trial merely on the ground that he had failed to demand a speedy trial.

Talking about the free legal aid and speedy trial Justice Krishna Iyer observed that- granting speedy trial is state’s duty and not a charity and in the leading case of ‘Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot vs State Of Maharashtra[6] it was held that if a prisoner is unable to exercise his constitutional and statutory right of appeal including Special Leave to Appeal for want of legal assistance, the court will grant such right to him under Article 142, read with Articles 21 and 39A of the Constitution.

Further handcuffing an under trial prisoner is violation of fundamental right under Article 14, 19 and 21 and hence such practice must be abolished. The same was held in the case of Prem Shankar Shukla vs Delhi Administration[7].

Enactment and rules –

1. The Prisons Act, 1984

The act is the first act in India regarding the prison and its regulation. Some of the provisions of this act are as-

-Providing accommodation and sanitary conditions to the prisoners.

-Provisions for physical and mental state of prisoners.

-Provisions regarding examination of prisoners by a qualified medical practitioner.

2. The Prisoners Act 1990

Under the act it was made the duty of the government to remove any person of unsound mind to a lunatic asylum who is detained under any sentence of the court.

3. The Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950

For the transfers of prisoners from one state to another for purposes like vocational raining, rehabilitation etc this act was made

4. The Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act 1955

The provision related to the authorization of the removal of prisoners to a civil or criminal court for providing evidence etc is contained in this act.

Judicial Stance in the present situation

State Of Andhra Pradesh vs Challa Ramkrishna Reddy[8]

In this case the Supreme Court held that –The right to life is a basic right which everyone should have even prisoners and this right cannot be taken away or defeated by any means.

Babu Singh vs State of U.P [9]

It was held that authorities cannot refuse to grant bail in the case of bailable offences as such would amount to the violation of Article 21 of the constitution.

Babu Singh And Ors vs The State Of U.P[10]

In the present case a writ of Habeas Corpus was filed by the petitioners where the person was acquitted by the court but was not released by the jail authorities. His precious 14 years of life were ruined and because of the loss the petitioners claimed for compensation illegal incarceration. It was held by the honourable Supreme Court of India that “delay in releasing a person form jail amounts to illegal detention”.

Following principles were laid down by the court in the judgement- (1) The monetary compensation for violation of fundamental rights to life and personal liberty can be determined; and (2) If infringements of fundamental rights cannot be corrected by any other methods open to judiciary, than right to compensation is opened.

The court emphasised on the importance of fair treatment and judicial remedy in the case of R.D Upadhyay vs State of U.P [11] wherein the court held the right to fair treatment and judicial remedy as pre requisites of administration of prison justice.

In another landmark case of ‘Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar[12] Court emphasised on the betterment of conditions of prisons in India.

In the case of ‘Hiralal Malik v. State Of Bihar’[13]The court upheld the same ruling and stated that the rehabilitation of prisoners and reformation of prisons is a duty of the state government[14].

There are several other landmark judgments that shows cognizance of Indian judiciary towards the betterment of prisoners.

Right to reasonable wages for work and implementation of Labour Laws

The court held that a work which is unpaid is a form of bonded labour which is humiliating,   and so prisoners have the right to take part in cultural activities according to the rights provided to them. Prisoners are entitled to remunerated jobs. However for a certain period of time the prisoners were made to work without them being provided with even wages. Judiciary took a stand against the situation and held that some wages must be paid as remuneration to the prisoner such rate should be reasonable and not trivial at any cost[15]. It is however not yet decided by the court any fixed or minimum wage to be paid to the prisoners. The court directed the state government to decide a reasonable and just wage for the inmates and in the meanwhile until a proper minimum wage is fixed by the government, prisoners should be paid at the rate of 8/- per day.[16]

Further the court also made it clear that forced labour in any form must not be practiced as

Hon’ble High Court of GujaratIt was held that a rational basis has to be decided on the basis of which the prisoners should be paid, also they are not entitled to be paid under the Minimum Wages Act .[17]


Life is not a merely animal existence it is more than that. We must respect the lives of the people behind the bars. No detention can bid a farewell to their fundamental right, the right to live with dignity, the right to be respected and valued. Just being prisoner doesn’t deprive them from their fundamental rights. Those who are behind the bars are many a times are deprived of their human rights and fundamental rights, it also often seems a s a challenge to provide human rights to them and ensuring that weather the human rights are been provided to them or not , the reasons can be their isolation from the world, lack of interest on the people’s part, however it is not impossible and the detrimental condition of the prisoners is seem to be improved by the continuous efforts of the government on this part. But the milestone is yet to be achieved and it can only be achieved when strict actions must be taken against those who are depriving the prisoners from their human rights. Also there is a need to codify the laws because if procedural laws are not strong enough administration of justice cannot be achieved.

“I have previously stated my views that a prisoner does not shed his basic constitutional rights at the prison gate and I fully support the court’s holding that the interest o f inmate.”[18]

[1] Section 1 of the Prison Security Act 1992

[2] State o f Maharashtra v Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir, AIR 1966 SC 424/ 

[3] Charles Sobaraj v. Supdt Central Jail Tihar, AIR 1978 SC 1514

[4] AIR 1963 SC 1295

[5] AIR 1996 SC 2426 : (1996) 4SCC 37

[6] (1978) 3 SCC 544 : AIR 1978 SC 1548

[7] AIR 1980 SC 1535

[8] AIR 2000 SC 2083

[9] AIR 1978 SC 527

[10] AIR 1983 SC 1086 . (1983) 4 SCC 141

[11] AIR  2001(SCC 437

[12] AIR 1979 (SC 1377)

[13] Criminal Appeal (DB) No.1403 of 2017

[14] AIR 1977 (SC 2237)

[15] Md.Giasuddin vs State of A.P

[16] In Re Prison Reforms Enhancement o f Wages of Prisoners”, ADR. 1983 Kerala 261

[17] AIR 1998 SC 3164 (Clause (3) of Para51)

[18] Mr. Justice Marshall

Comments are closed.