The MAHARASHTRA State Department of Prisons and Correctional Services has prepared a list of undertrials who can be granted provisional bail in order to reduce overcrowding in jails across the state, in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The state will also file an affidavit, responding to notices issued by the Supreme Court seeking steps taken by state governments for prison inmates during the current health crisis.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus in overcrowded prisons, the Maharashtra Prisons Department had proposed granting provisional bails to undertrials who are currently incarcerated for offences below a certain level of seriousness. The department had also announced a series of other steps, including setting up isolation wards in some jails and suspension of visits by relatives and lawyers, and court hearings being conducted via video-conferencing at prisons.
Three days ago, a special bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao had observed that overcrowding in prisons posed a risk during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The apex court had observed that the advisory of the government on maintaining social distance would be difficult to follow in overcrowded prisons. The Supreme Court had issued notices to prison authorities of states and union territories, asking why directions should not be issued to them for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of COVID-19.
Maharashtra is expected to file its affidavit on the notice on Friday.
Sunil Ramanand, additional director general, Prisons and Correctional Services for the state of Maharashtra, who announced the proposal of provisional bails, recently said, “Granting bail is essentially in the purview of the court. So, from our side, we have prepared lists of inmates from across the state who are undertrials in offences of minor and medium nature. We are discussing this with judicial officers. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court recently has taken suo motu cognizance of the situation and issued notices to states asking what they are doing in this regard. On Friday, we will be filing our affidavit outlining various measures we have taken and also the proposal of granting provisional bails to a section of inmates. The SC is slated to hear the submissions from the states on March 23. The orders then passed by the apex court will be binding on all the states.”
According to the latest figures as on February 29, the 60 prisons in Maharashtra have an inmate population of nearly 36,700 as against the sanctioned strength of 24,030, making them 52 per cent crowded beyond their capacity. Of these, the nine high-security central prisons have a total population of 25,866 as against the sanctioned strength of 144,91 an overcrowding of 78 per cent.
British-era prisons such as Yerawada in Pune, Arthur Road in Mumbai and Thane Central jail in Thane are the worst affected by overcrowding. Yerawada Prison has 5,717 inmates against a sanction capacity of 2,449, resulting in overcrowding of 133 per cent. Arthur Road in Mumbai has 3,718 inmates against capacity of 804 (362 per cent overcrowded) and Thane Prison has 4,035 inmates against capacity of 1,105 (265 per cent overcrowded).
Of the total number of inmates in Maharashtra state prisons, one fourth are convicts and the remaining are undertrials. The department has undertaken several measures in the recent past to reduce overcrowding.
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