UNDERTRIAL prisoners booked for offences with maximum punishment up to seven years will be released on interim bail by furnishing personal bonds, the high-powered committee constituted in the state following the Supreme Court order on decongesting prisons has decided. Following the SC order on Monday, metropolitan courts across the state had taken suo motu cognizance and already directed the release of over 250 prisoners, including over 100 in the city.
The committee’s order will also include those being tried by the sessions court, but exclude those booked for serious offences under special laws, including Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The accused will be required to report to the police once every 30 days.
On Thursday, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announced the release of 11,000 prisoners, including undertrials and convicts, based on parameters decided by the committee and the undertrial review committee.
The Maharashtra Legal Services Authority on Friday wrote to principal district judges across state directing them to identify undertrial prisoners and take appropriate action to release them on interim bail.
The authority noted that the directions will not apply “presently” to foreign nationals and undertrials having residence outside Maharashtra.
However, lawyers said litigants are facing several difficulties in approaching courts and prison authorities due to the lockdown. Lawyers said due to directions issued by the HC to present only extremely urgent matters, lawyers are finding it difficult to place matters seeking parole or furlough for their clients. A lawyer said his client, a 40-year-old woman lodged in jail, who has served three years out of her 10-year term, wants parole for personal reasons as she could not avail it last year due to her mother’s death. “However, there is no clarity whether it will fall under ‘extremely urgent’ matter category as directed and hence the difficulty to approach the court. Moreover, jail authorities are not readily available to consider pleas as they are overburdened due to the lockdown,” the lawyer said.
Jail authorities have also suspended visits by lawyers and family members in jails, leading to lack of communication for undertrials. Another lawyer wrote to the registrar general of the Bombay High Court on Friday stating that it has become difficult to complete formalities of bail conditions due to the lockdown since courts are working with minimum staff. “The jails are overcrowded and due to difficulties in non-compliance of bail orders, the accused cannot be released from jails,” the email written by Asif Naqvi, a committee member of the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court Bar Association, states. Many, who have been granted bail, with conditions including payment of surety, have been unable to complete the formalities.
Advocate Prosper D’Souza, senior panel member of the High Court Legal Aid Services Committee, said women and underprivileged persons can approach the committee and seek redressal of various issues faced due to the lockdown. “As undertrials are present in large numbers in prisons, the government can revisit guidelines for premature release of prisoners and consider relaxing number of years by two years to further decongest the prisons in urgent need of physical distancing. Also, those who have crossed 65 years of age and those in open prison for term of three years or less can be considered for release,” he said.
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