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Prisons (Punishments)

Volume 413: debated on Thursday 23 August 1945

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he has investigated the allegations made to him that cruel punishments are being perpetrated in Indian prisons, especially at Midnapore, Dacca and the Andamans; under what conditions and with what precautions against excess, corporal punishment is permitted in Indian prisons; to what extent the British authorities in India control the regulations for prison management and discipline in Bengal or in any other Indian Provinces where Provincial Governments are operating; and, where Provincial Governments are suspended, what precautions are taken against excessive punishments.

As my reply is somewhat long I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Will the Minister endeavour to see that his reply gets good publicity, especially abroad, in view of the fact that these very specific charges are being made in a way that makes it quite obviously intended to be assumed that British officials are responsible, and that the charges are likely to do considerable harm in the United States?

In view of the nature of the reply, I think the hon. Lady may take it that it will receive fairly wide publicity.

Following is the statement:

My Noble Friend has made inquiries of the authorities in India as to the allegations referred to in the hon. Member's question and in other recent allegations in the Press. He is informed that there is no foundation whatever for the allegations that torture was used in the Andaman Islands, that prisoners are kept in cells 6 ft. by 4 ft. and deprived of water and that a particular prisoner was made to sit on blocks of ice. As regards the alleged incident in Midnapore, the Government of Bengal have reported that the allegations relate to the period 1930–32, at a time when there was widespread disorder and terrorism. Jails became overcrowded with this new type of prisoner, creating unusual difficulties of administration and resort was sometimes had to exceptional measures to maintain order, including flogging. The description of the scene during such happenings in the allegations to which the hon. Member refers is, I am advised, completely untrue. As regards the two alleged incidents in the prison at Dacca, these also occurred during the period 1930–32 following terrorist and communal disturbances. I am awaiting a further report from the Government of Bengal in regard to them.

2. In Indian prisons whipping may only be inflicted for serious jail offences such as mutiny. In Midnapore Central Jail, for instance, with an average population of over 1,000, there has been no case of whipping since 1938. This punishment may be inflicted in Bengal Jails only for grave breaches of discipline such as mutiny, serious assaults on officials, etc., and the approval of the Government is necessary in the case of certain classes of prisoners, and the approval of a local committee consisting of the District Magistrate and two non-official visitors in the case of the others. This punishment is not awarded unless the prisoner is medically fit, and a medical officer is present during the execution of the sentence, so that he may curtail it if necessary in the interest of the prisoner's health. The description of the scene during such happenings is, I am advised, completely untrue.

3. The Central and Provincial Governments in India have never tolerated the use of third degree methods in any shape or form and have never hesitated to take disciplinary action against any of their officers who exceeded their instructions.

4. Under the Government of India Act, 1935, prison administration is entrusted solely to Provincial Governments who are responsible to the Provincial Legislatures, and the ultimate control of the regulations for prison management and discipline in the Provincial prisons is therefore in Indian hands. Where these Governments are suspended, however, under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, their responsibilities are assumed by the Provincial Governors, who in this capacity are under the superintendence of the Governor-General. Unofficial jail visitors are permitted to visit the prisoner and complaints can be made to them by prisoners.

5. In general I feel that the hon. Member will appreciate the difficulty of the Indian Government in having to investigate incidents which are alleged to have taken place thirteen to fifteen years ago.