HC Deb 23 June 1881 vol 262 cc1106-8

asked the Secretary of State for India, If he is aware that the mortality among prisoners in gaol in Bengal, during the past year, has been everywhere throughout the Presidency excessively high, reaching in some instances 220, 280, and even 360 per thousand; whether he is aware that this fearful mortality is alleged to be mainly due to starvation on the prison diet; whether it is true that 8,223 prisoners have been flogged during the year for non-performance of allotted work; whether his attention has been called to statements in the "Bombay Gazette," "Calcutta Englishman," and other Indian papers, that Prisoners who, from want of food, were unfit to labour, were dragged to the triangles and flogged by the thousand because they were weak and sick unto death on starvation rations; if these allegations be true, why he has not interfered; and, whether he has received any information from Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, upon the subject?


Sir, the Administration Report of 1879 of the gaols in Bengal contains the following statement:— The total number of deaths among convicted prisoners in gaols increased from 869 in 1877, 1,216 in 1878, to 1,679 in 1879, The ratio per cent of average strength in the three years was 5.06, 7.17, and 9.89. The statement referred to by the hon. Member is taken from a list of gaols where the mortality was highest, beginning with Dinagepore, where the death-rate per 1,000 was 360, and ending with Sarun, where it was 108. Some of these gaols, however, received weak and unhealthy prisoners from other gaols for treatment; the mortality, therefore, cannot be said to be due to causes prevailing in them. The Lieutenant Governor of Bengal states that the chief cause of the increased sickness was the adoption of the diet scale proposed by a special conference of prison officers, and recommended by the Government of India, which scale was employed for nine months of the year 1879, and that, on its being discovered that the prisoners using this scale were unhealthy, a provisional change was at once made in the diet, and the health of the prisoners improved; and at the same time the Lieutenant Governor directed a special committee to take up the subject and prepare a suitable scale on the experience which has now been gained. It is true that 8,232 prisoners have been flogged in district and central gaols during the year 1879 for prison offences, and that non-performance of allotted work is the most frequent cause of such punishment. On receiving a resolution of the Bengal Government, dated July 20, 1880, in which this subject was dealt with among others, the Government of India, on August 27, 1880, expressed its concurrence in the views of the Lieutenant Governor as to the necessity of restricting the use of corporal punishment to the most serious cases, and desired to be furnished with any further remarks which the Lieutenant Governor might wish to make on this subject after receiving the special Report which had been called for from the Inspector General of Gaols. The Bengal Government replied to this reference, on the 20th of January last, in a letter, from which the following extract is taken:— The Lieutenant Governor is glad to be able to report that since the issue of orders in the early part of the past year—i.e., 1880—drawing the attention of superintendents to the increase in the number of floggings, there has been considerable improvement. It appears from the statistics submitted by the Inspector General of Gaols that whereas, for the period from May to September, 1879, there were 3,722 corporal punishments, there were only 1,384 for the corresponding period in 1880. The Inspector General of Gaols has been directed to submit, in future, quarterly returns showing the number of corporal punishments inflicted on the convicts in each district gaol, and the knowledge that these returns will be submitted to Government will act as a powerful check upon gaol superintendents. The Lieutenant Governor has also under consideration the possibility of, in many cases, substituting for corporal punishment some forms of penal labour distasteful to the prisoners, but not hurtful to their health, and some forms of penal diet, which shall fulfil the same conditions. Although, therefore, there is some inaccuracy and much exaggeration in the statements of Indian newspapers referred to, there is, I regret to say, some, and too much, foundation for them. The facts brought to notice have, as I have shown, not escaped the attention of the Government of Bengal, or of India; but the result of their inquiries has not yet been fully communicated to me, especially as regards the scale of prison diet. I have given directions that further information shall be at once furnished. I have just received a telegram from India, of which the following is an extract:— Regarding corporal punishment, the last reply from the local Governments was received yesterday. Regarding the diet scale in Bengal gaols, the report of the special committee is awaited. A telegraphic reminder was sent today. The Inspector of Gaols' report not yet received.