#SupremeCourt of India in a suo motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.1/2020 titled as In Re: Contagion of Covid 19 Virus in Prisons,passed an Order dated 23.03.2020 to deal with the issue of overcrowding in #prisons in the wake of #COVID19 pandemic. The 4 Judges Bench vide its Order directed all State and Union Territories to set up High-Level Committees to determine the class of prisoners who can be released on #parole for four to six weeks.
The Court while expressing its concerns over the crowded prisons observed that there are 1,339 prisons in the country housing approximately 4,66,084 inmates. The Court observed that as there is a lot of movement in the prison due to staff, visitors and lawyers there is a higher risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the prison inmates.
The Bench issued notice to all the State and Union Territories and directed the constitution of High-Level Committees which will work in consultation with State Legal Service Authority to determine which class of prisoners could be released on parole or on interim bail, for such period as it may think appropriate. However, the Bench had given an example that “…the Sate and Union Territory could consider the release of prisoners who have been convicted or are under trial for offences for which prescribed punishment is up to 7 years or less with or without fine and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the maximum.”
Consequently, in a recent case of V. Krishnamurthy vs State of Tamil Nadu and Others(WP No. 7482/2020), the Petitioner had approached the High Court at Madras, seeking enforcement of the directions given by the Supreme Court vide its Order dated 23.03.2020.
In this matter, the Government of State of Tamil Nadu informed the High Court of the steps taken by it to decongest prisons as well as to ensure the safety of those who are presently in #Jails.It was submitted that around 4182 prisoners who were involved in various offences were released by the Principal District Judges on Bail, by involving the Undertrial Review Committee and Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority.The Government further submitted that a High Powered Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Justice Vineet Kothari, Judge of the Madras High Court had been constituted, which also made recommendations to ensure welfare of all prisoners. Accordingly, the Government submitted that it has duly acted upon the directions of the Apex Court. The High Court expressed its satisfaction on the measures taken by the State and accordingly the matter was disposed off.
In another case titled as Mushtaq Ahmad Peer v. State of J&K &Ors.(CRA No. 34/2018), before the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir,wherein an application for parole was moved by the Petitioner, who was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of sixteen years by a Special Anti-Corruption Court in connection to a cash-for-paper scam.
The administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir informed the High Court that the High Powered Committee constituted by it for determination of class of persons who may be released on interim bail to decongest prisons due to the threat of pandemic has suggested on 07.04.2020 that,
“…a person, who has been convicted in one case and has spent more than ten years (eight years, 5 in case of woman) in jail, except the cases vis-à-vis militancy, NDPS Act, POCSO Act or offence against women or acid attack or foreign national, can be considered for grant of special parole.“
Nevertheless, the Bench of the J&K High Court noted that the Head of Prisons Department had been appointed as the “competent authority” under the Jammu and Kashmir Suspension of Sentence Rules, 2020 to grant “emergency parole” or “regular parole” to a prisoner, as the case may be.
Accordingly, the High Court ordered the Applicant to avail of the above remedy by approaching the High Powered Committee, comprising of Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, Head of Prisons and Director General of Prisons.
The Government of Uttar Pradesh has also decided to free 11,000 prisoners lodged in 71 prisons in the State due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. The High-Level Committee directed that undertrials lodged in 71 Jails of the State in crimes, whose maximum punishment is of 7 years, be given 8-weeks interim bail on a personal bond, and immediately freed from the prison.
Therefore, in compliance with the Order of the Supreme Court, several States and Union Territory have started taking actions ensuring the implementation of the Order. The High-Level committees are being formed and exercise to control the spread of pandemic in prisons has already been undertaken by the Authorities. Similar steps have been taken by the Governments of State of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and UTs of Dadar & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Puducherry in compliance of the Supreme Court Order dated 23.03.2020.
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