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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Covid surge in congested jails, SC orders release of prisoners

The court told states to avoid unnecessary arrests and directed the high-powered committees constituted by states and Union Territories—as per the court’s order last year—to consider fresh releases of prisoners.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: May 9, 2021 2:14:30 am
Covid surge in congested jails, SC orders release of prisonersA bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana flagged “the rapid proliferation of the virus among the inmates of congested prisons" as a matter of "serious concern”. (File Photo)

The Supreme Court has moved to decongest jails amid the surge in Covid-19 cases, ordering the release of prisoners who were let out last year.

The court told states to avoid unnecessary arrests and directed the high-powered committees constituted by States and Union Territories—as per the court’s order last year—to consider fresh releases of prisoners.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana flagged “the rapid proliferation of the virus among the inmates of congested prisons” as a matter of “serious concern”.

The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, said: “India has more than four lakh prison inmates” and “some of the prisons…are overburdened and are housing inmates beyond optimal capacity”.

“The requirement of de-congestion is a matter concerning health and right to life of both the prison inmates and the police personnel working. Reduction of impact of Covid-19 requires this Court to effectively calibrate concerns of criminal justice system, health hazards and rights of the accused,” said the May 7 order.

“The High-Powered Committees constituted by the State Governments/Union Territories shall consider release of prisoners by adopting the guidelines (such as inter alia, Standard Operating Procedure laid down by National Legal Services Authority) followed by them last year, at the earliest,” the top court said.

It called upon states that did not constitute high-powered committees last year “to do so immediately”.

The court directed that the high-powered committees, “in addition to considering fresh release, should forthwith release all the inmates who had been released earlier (pursuant to the court’s March 23, 2020 order), by imposing appropriate conditions”.

It said that “such an exercise is mandated in order to save valuable time”.

“…Those inmates who were granted parole, pursuant to our earlier orders, should be again granted parole for a period of 90 days in order to tide over the pandemic,” it said.

The court agreed to include the Commissioner of Delhi Police as a member of the committee for the national capital.

Stating that the “fight against the pandemic is greatly benefitted by transparent administration”, the court also called upon states and UTss to follow the Delhi example of updating prison occupancy on its websites.

The top court also directed that all the decisions of HPCs “be published on respective State Legal Service Authorities/State Governments/High Courts websites to enable effective dissemination of information”.

The bench noted that some prisoners might not be willing to be released because of their social background and the fear of becoming victims of the virus and directed authorities to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided to all those who are imprisoned. It also called for regular testing in jails and to improve hygiene and sanitation.

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