Around 865 undertrial prisoners from Yerawada Central Jail in Pune, who have been on hunger strike from March 26, have written to the Bombay High Court seeking their speedy release on interim bail in view of recent directions issued by the Supreme Court and Maharashtra government to avoid COVID-19 outbreak in overcrowded jails.
The high-powered committee constituted in the state following the SC order on decongesting prisons had last week decided that undertrial prisoners booked for offences with maximum punishment up to seven years will be released on interim bail initially for 45 days by furnishing personal bonds.
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, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act and Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The accused will be required to report to the police once every 30 days.
In view of these directions, undertrial prisoners wrote to HC on March 27, claiming Yerawada jail authorities have not yet informed around 865 prisoners whether they are eligible for release.
The undertrials have sought directions to the state government that the high-powered committee should not discriminate between prisoners and facilitate granting of interim bail or parole to all those eligible. It was also sought that in case of death of due to COVID-19 in prisons, the government should be held accountable and damages worth Rs 2 crore be paid to the deceased’s family.
Advocate Shashikant Chaudhari, a member of High Court Legal Services Committee, mentioned the plea before single judge bench of Justice S S Shinde on Monday.
Chaudhari submitted that due to lack of information and untimely update by the prison authorities to the high-powered committee about the measures taken to prevent COVID-19 outbreak, a monitoring team must be set up to ensure the directives issued to prisons and remand homes are followed. He further argued that the jail authority has not provided details of inmates determining the class of prisoners as prescribed by the SC.
“Presently, the issue of overcrowding of prisons is a matter of concern and directions to Yerawada prison authorities are required to break the hunger strike,” Chaudhari said.
However, Yerawada jail official present in the court and government lawyer Deepak Thakare opposed the plea arguing that it was not maintainable as the state has been following SC guidelines.
After hearing submissions, Justice Shinde took a cognisance of the plea and asked jail authorities to expedite the process to release undertrials. It also directed the state government to file a detailed progress report by April 8.
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