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Report No. 262

(ii) Illegal Solitary Conditions of Detention

6.7.16 The Supreme Court outlawed the practice of solitary confinement in 1978 in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494 ('Sunil Batra'), Solitary confinement was defined by the Supreme Court as confinement of a prisoner in a single cell apart from other prisoners. Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494, at paras 91-92.

The Supreme Court in Sunil Batra observed that solitary confinement, absent a specific judicial order, may only be imposed when a prisoner is under an executable sentence of death, i.e. after his mercy petition has been rejected by the President, and even then under severe restrictions and modifications. The Court held:

118. It follows that during the pendency of a petition for mercy before the State Governor or the President of India the death sentence shall not be executed. Thus, until rejection of the clemency motion by these two high dignitaries it is not possible to predicate that there is a self executory death sentence. Therefore, a prisoner becomes legally subject to a self-working sentence of death only when the clemency application by the prisoner stands rejected. of course, thereafter Section 30(2) [of Prison Act] is attracted.

A second or a third, a fourth or further application for mercy does not take him out of that category unless there is a specific order by the competent authority staying the execution of the death sentence. Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494, at para 118.

6.7.17 While the illegality of solitary confinement has been made amply clear by the Supreme Court in more than one decision, the practice is still rampant especially for prisoners on the death row. In Shatrughan Chauhan, relying upon the Sunil Batra decision, the Supreme Court lamented about the existence of widespread use of solitary confinement for prisoners on death row and urged the prison authorities to implement the Sunil Batra decision in spirit. The Supreme Court observed:

91. Even in Triveniben [Triveniben v. State of Gujarat, (1989) 1 SCC 678 : 1989 SCC (Cri) 248] , this Court observed that keeping a prisoner in solitary confinement is contrary to the ruling in Sunil Batra [Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn., (1978) 4 SCC 494 : 1979 SCC (Cri) 155] and would amount to inflicting "additional and separate" punishment not authorised by law.

It is completely unfortunate that despite enduring pronouncement on judicial side, the actual implementation of the provisions is far from reality. We take this occasion to urge to the Jail Authorities to comprehend and implement the actual intent of the verdict in Sunil Batra [Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn., (1978) 4 SCC 494 : 1979 SCC (Cri) 155]. Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India, (2014) 3 SCC 1, at para 91. (Emphasis supplied)

6.7.18 The Supreme Court in Ajay Kumar Pal v. Union of India, (2014) 13 SCALE 762 noticed that the convict was subjected to solitary confinement while he was on death row. The Court on account of delay in disposal of mercy petition by the executive authorities and imposition of solitary confinement, commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

6.7.19 Likewise, solitary confinement was also considered as a relevant supervening circumstance in the case of Peoples' Union of Democratic Rights v. Union of India & Others, 2015 (2) ADJ 398 where the death sentence of prisoner was commuted.

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