April 22, 2021 1:03:09 am
Following a surge in Covid-19 cases in state prisons, the Maharashtra state department has asked superintendents of jails in all districts to hold meetings with district judges and discuss measures to decongest the prisons through the Undertrial Review Committee.
At least 41 prisoners tested positive for the virus at Byculla women’s jail in the city this week. They included former media executive Indrani Mukerjea, booked in the 2012 Sheena Bora murder case, and Jyoti Jagtap, member of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch, booked in the 2018 Elgar Parishad case.
Two Covid-related deaths inside prisons have been reported so far this year; both took place last week in Nagpur jail. Last year, state prisons reported seven deaths on their premises due to the pandemic.
At present, jails across Maharashtra are home to 35,000 inmates, much higher than their capacity of 23,217, according to data from the state’s prison department. A majority of these inmates are undertrials.
Officials said it is necessary to decongest jails on priority.
Last year, when Covid-19 cases began to be reported from across state prisons, a state government-appointed high-power committee had recommended that the prisons be eased of half of its population by releasing convicts on emergency parole and undertrials on temporary bail. Even though inmates released — around 10,000 in number — are yet to be directed to return to jail, the number of fresh arrests has led to the jails being overcrowded again. “We have to take urgent steps to reduce crowding again and hence have asked prison officials to coordinate with judicial officers to decide on steps that can be taken,” a prison official said.
According to a Supreme Court order in 2015, each district is supposed to have an Undertrial Review Committee comprising the District and Sessions Judge, the District Magistrate, Superintendent of police, the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) and the officer-in-charge of prisons. The committee is required to consider the case of each undertrial and accordingly recommend their release in eligible cases to the concerned court. According to the procedure, the prison officials are required to provide a list which is then shortlisted by the DLSA, following which a meeting is required to be convened by the judge to consider each case.
The meeting, as per the top court’s directions, is to be held every quarter.
At present, jails across Maharashtra have 250 active cases among its inmates and over 100 cases among staffers. At least 23 of the 46 prisons are overcrowded, including all jails in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
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