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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 19:12 GMT
Jailed for 37 years without trial

The West Bengal High Court has been ordered to investigate The West Bengal High Court has been ordered to investigate


By Rajyasri Rao in Delhi

The Supreme Court of India has ordered an investigation into the case of a prisoner who has been awaiting trial for the past 37 years in the eastern state of West Bengal.

Ajay Ghosh has been in custody since 1962, when he was arrested and charged with murdering his brother.

The case was brought to the court's notice last October, when it realised the prisoner had been in custody for a term longer than that served by convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.

Under Indian law, a person convicted of a serious crime can be sentenced to term of up to 14 years.

In keeping with this regulation, Mr Ghosh should have been released in 1976.

Shifted around

The court said it was disturbed by the callousness with which Mr Ghosh had been treated in his 37-year prison term.

On the basis of an affidavit filed by a lawyer assisting in the case, the court said Mr Ghosh had been shifted around from prison to prison for 20 years from the time of his arrest.

Throughout this period, Mr Ghosh was denied a trial on the grounds that he was mentally unsound.

The Supreme Court criticised the prison authorities for not providing any information about his condition for 21 years, up to 1983.

It was then that the trial court ruled that it would try him only when he recovered his mental health.

Petition

After a lapse of 10 more years, Mr Ghosh's case was revived in response to another public interest petition.

The Calcutta high court then recommended his transfer to a psychiatric centre.

In an interview with the BBC, the lawyer assisting the apex court in this case, Ranjit Kumar, said that Mr Ghosh's health could only have got worse during his long years in prison.

He said that the trial court was responsible for not having kept him under observation from the time that he was thought to be mentally incapable of facing a trial.

According to prison authorities in India, Mr Ghosh is only one of at least 9,000 such prisoners awaiting trial.

Commentators say that the ruling goes a long way in highlighting the miseries of those in custody without being charged.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Long wait for Indian justice
10 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Protest against Kashmir 'missing'

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