The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Tuesday to stop issuing advisories to states on undertrial prisoners if the latter were ignoring them.

The bench headed by justice MB Lokur made the stern remark when the government said it was helpless if the states were not following its advice on the release of undertrials to reduce crowding of jails.

“In that event you stop advising the states if they are not listening to you. If your advice is not worth a while, then it’s better not to give it,” the court said, hearing a PIL to improve living conditions for prisoners in jail.

The court was astonished to read details furnished on undertrials by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), which said prisoners continue to languish in jails despite the state legal services authorities and Undertrial Review Commission (URC) recommending their release. “There are around 2,000 such prisoners. If the state authorities are not releasing them, it is a violation of their fundamental right under Article 21 that entitles them to liberty,” the bench told Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal.

Justice Lokur read out the contents of the NALSA report to point out that in some instances, undertrials released were more than the recommendation. “In Assam, the URC identified 46 but 67 prisoners were released. Similarly in Uttar Pradesh, URC approved 228 names whereas 269 were let out,” the judge said.

On his part, the AG said the Centre could only issue advisories. To make the states act upon it, the court must issue a notice to the chief secretary and seek an explanation, Venugopal submitted. “We did what is under our jurisdiction. Advisories were issued since you (court) asked us to do so. For more effective process, the court should not ask the Union of India to do something outside their legislative competence,” Venugopal said, asking the court to take stringent action if states are unable to give a satisfactory reply.

On the AG’s suggestion the court asked the chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to file an affidavit on the status of undertrials in jails.

Fixing October 25 as the deadline for the same, the court said it would be compelled to summon them personally if there was a failure to comply with the order.

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