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Mar 11, 2013 at 11:40pm IST

With suicide cases on the rise, do rules for those behind bars need a relook?

New Delhi: The mysterious death of prime accused in Delhi gangrape and murder case, Ram Singh, inside his cell has once again brought into focus the rising cases of suicides and custodial deaths in Indian jails. The law of the land says that every prisoner is innocent till he or she is proven guilty and therefore his or her safety and security is the responsibility of the state.

Ram Singh, the main accused in the December 16 gangrape case, was to appear in court on Monday but his body was found hanging from the grill of his cell early morning. But his is on the only such case. On June 21, 2011 in Lucknow, deputy chief medical officer YS Sachan was found dead inside a district jail. He was an accused in the murder of two Chief Medical Officers in the high-profile National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam.

"The system has to keep up with the negative creativity. His level of depression, psych analysis, what were the policy decisions, all these systems have to be re-checked. Any death in judicial custody calls for a magisterial enquiry so you'll know what kind of electronic and human watch he was under and what kind of psychological services he received," said former Tihar director general Kiran Bedi.

The debate over prison reforms started with the death of Rajan Pillai, Singapore-based chairman of the Britania group, who succumbed to his illness at a Delhi hospital in July1995. The court had held the state liable for lapses and issued a slew of directions including de-congesting overcrowded jails and better healthcare facilities for inmates. But almost 18 years later not much has changed.

"It is possible to commit suicide. This is not the first of its kind in Tihar. Earlier also inmates have committed suicide. There is always a window with grills. He can always use some clothing or bedsheet and can commit suicide if he is determined to do that," said former Delhi Police commissioner BK Gupta.

The National crime records bureau and other agencies state that Tihar Jail has a capacity of only 6250 inmates, but currently it houses about 12,000 prisoners. There are over 40 incidents of suicides in Indian jails every year and 35 to 90 per cent of inmates who attempted suicide suffer from depression and other psychological disorders. There is also a severe shortage of counsellors in central jails, while there are no counsellors in sub-divisional jails.