KOLLAM: As the country prepares to go to the polls to elect members to the 15th Lok Sabha, one big group — prisoners — is still denied the opportunity to participate in the world’s largest democratic exercise.
Even in Kerala, considered to be one of the most politically conscious States in the country, things are no different.
There are three central jails, two open jails, seven special sub-jails, 29 sub-jails and three district jails in the State. About 7,000 persons are imprisoned. They include both convicts and undertrials. The majority of them possess all necessary documents to enable them to vote. Yet, they are denied the right to vote. This is in spite of the fact that the Constitution of India does not bar them from voting. The paradox is that a prisoner can stand for elections but cannot vote in an election.
A superintendent of a jail in the State told The Hindu that the Kerala Prison Rules 1958 does not have any provision enabling prisoners to exercise their franchise. He attributed this to the confusion created by Section 62 (5) of the Representation of the People Act 1951 vis-a-vis Article 326 of the Constitution of India. While the former bars prisoners from voting, the latter says all those who are 18 years and above can vote. Asked whether this could be construed as violation of human rights, the jail official said he himself was confused about it.
He, at the same time, said it could well be denial of Fundamental Rights.
M.G.A. Raman, former Director-General of Police (Prisons), said denial of voting rights to a prisoner was absolute violation of the theory of reforming prisoners. There should be a rethink on the relevant section of the Representation of the People Act. “We are not living in the 1950s,” he said.
Mr. Raman who was instrumental in bringing about many changes aimed at reforming prisoners in the State said if there was no Constitutional bar, definitely they should be allowed to vote. With the reformation exercise going on in jails today, it would be desirable if we gave them a chance to vote.
A convict released on parole said that it was a pity that even political parties were not taking up the voting rights of prisoners. This is in spite of the fact that politicians convicted in criminal cases have not only contested the elections but have been elected to legislatures and the Lok Sabha.
Ignatius Pereira, The Hindu, Mar 28, 2009