Videoconferencing facility between Andhra jails and courts

By Mohammed Shafeeq, India Abroad News Service

Hyderabad, Dec 12 - Andhra Pradesh has become the first Indian state to provide videoconference links between jails and courts, a measure that will help 'produce' undertrials before magistrates without their physical presence.

The video linkage facility between the Chanchalguda central jail, which has more than 1,600 undertrials, and the Nampally City Criminal Courts here has been provided by Stan Power Technologies at a cost of Rs.150,000.

Television sets and digital video cameras have been installed at both the ends and connected through Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines. The facility, which will be available from new year, is likely to solve a major problem faced by police in providing armed escorts to undertrials while taking them from jails to courts. The shortage of escort personnel has also resulted in many undertrials languishing in jails without being produced in courts.

State Governor C. Rangarajan has issued an ordinance that will help produce undertrials before a magistrate through videoconferencing. The ordinance has amended subsection 2 of the 167 Criminal Procedure Code, which will enable producing an accused before the magistrate concerned "either in person or through the medium of video linkage."

The other benefits of the new system would be that the prisoners would have no chance to escape and a lot of time and money would be saved in transportation of remand prisoners to courts. About 1,000 constables are being used in the state everyday as escorts and they are paid escort allowance. The shortage of escort personnel often results in the remand prisoners not being produced before the courts. This has been delaying the cases. In the past, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had taken a serious note of the inordinate delay in the cases and had asked the government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the undertrials were produced on a given date.

Home Minister T. Devender Goud said the electronic video linkage would ease the burden on the police forces. He said the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has appreciated the state government for providing this facility. "This is the first major step for bringing jail reforms," he said. The trials of the system were successfully conducted in October this year when the then chief justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court, M.S. Liberhan, quizzed some undertrials in Chanchalguda central jail in Hyderabad. The chief justice and some other judges, who were sitting in Nampally City Criminal Courts complex, interacted with a dozen remand prisoners and then gave the nod to the government for introducing the facility.

The undertrials were hopeful that the videoconference facility would help in early disposal of cases. The undertrials are also expected to speak more freely with magistrates through this facility. Armed escorts, long waits at the court and the presence of magistrates and others have tremendous psychological pressure on undertrials when produced in person. With the successful demonstration of this facility in Hyderabad and the issuing of an ordinance, the state government is making arrangements to provide a similar facility in places like Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Warangal, Chittoor and Karimnagar.

--India Abroad News Service