Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Delhi prisoners escape the heat
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Tihar jail
Tihar jail has recently been heavily over-crowded
More than 600 prisoners being held for minor offences have been freed from India's biggest prison, Tihar jail, in Delhi, officials said.

The prisoners were released after the Delhi High court asked for steps to be taken to decongest the crowded jail.

At least six prisoners have died in as many days as they struggled to cope with excessive heat and the lack of basic amenities at the prison.

The court said fans and coolers should have been fixed before the summer.

'Heat stroke'

"We have released 627 inmates, including four women, following the High court order," Tihar jail spokesman, Sunil Gupta, told the BBC News website.

Mr Gupta said the prisoners were released late on Monday after they furnished a personal bond of 2,000 Rupees (around $50 dollars) each.

"It is a good idea to release people who were being held for minor offences. it is a great relief, now we can focus more on other inmates," Mr Gupta said.

Tihar Jail, located in west Delhi, has capacity to accommodate 6,250 inmates. But is has had more than double that in recent days.

The Delhi High Court issued its order on the basis of a report filed by a three-member committee that investigated the deaths of prisoners in the searing summer heat.

Six prisoners and a jail warden have died over a period of seven days beginning June 6.

An investigation into the deaths revealed that the seven people had died of "natural causes, including heat stroke".

The investigation committee in its report to the court also highlighted overcrowding and a lack of proper amenities, including a scarcity of drinking water in the jail.

Human rights groups regularly lament the lack of medical and other basic facilities in India's prisons.

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