CHRI's Prison Reform Programme was successful in facilitating the proactive disclosure of foreign national prisoners lodged in various jails across Rajasthan on the website of the State Prison Department.
The programme launched its project on reducing pre-trial detention in Rajasthan in 2009 that focused on facilitating legal representation for those who could not afford a lawyer besides pushing for implementation of statutory rights of undertrials. However, working along it was witnessed that another category of prisoners remained in detention unnecessarily. They were prisoners from impoverished countries who had finished their sentence but awaited administrative nods for being repatriated to their countries. They had completed their sentence, paid their fines and yet they suffered for months and years. Their liberty rested on political expediencies, the relation that India had with their home country and the receptiveness of their country's administration and as it seemed, their freedom was perpetually lost in procedure.
While CHRI intervened in a handful of cases that were referred through the legal aid clinics it conducted, the bigger problem could not be solved for the lack of information in public domain on such prisoners. The task of advocating for disclosure of the details of these prisoners was daunting because the human rights concerns of these prisoners were completely disregarded. The sensitivity of the information was perceived to be paramount as it dealt with 'foreigners', ignoring their illegal detention in prisons which violated Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This was witnessed when CHRI filed for seeking information to various jails across Rajasthan which was denied citing it to be exempt under Section 8(1)(a) & (g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 without explaining the grounds. Climbing the stairs of remedies, CHRI appealed to the Rajasthan State Information Commission.
Hearing its plea, Information Commissioner T. Srinivasan accepted the arguments partially and stated that balancing the conflicting requirements of security and human rights, the numbers of undertrials, convicts and condemned foreign national prisoners (male, female and children) jail wise shall be uploaded on the website of the Prison Department. (http://ric.rajasthan.gov.in/Files/Upload/6501-11.PDF)
Acting boldly on the order of the Commission, the Rajasthan Prison Department promptly uploaded the entire list of foreign national prisoners that carries name of the prisoner, name of prisoner's father, sections charged, name of the prison, date of arrest, duration of sentence, category (UTP, convict, released, detenu) and the possible date of release(http://rajprisons.nic.in/download/fpi3112.pdf)
The order has been a welcoming change as a step towards recognizing the rights of prisoners of foreign nationality who are often forgotten and rendered invisible behind bars. On a related note, it is also a step forward towards opening up prisons that are usually considered as closed, clandestine with a thick air of secrecy around it.