OVER A month after the Maharashtra government announced that more than 17,000 inmates across the state prisons would be released to decongest jails in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, only 10,000 prisoners have been granted temporary bail or emergency parole so far, officials said. This is despite a total of 370 people, including 293 inmates and 77 jail staffers, being infected by the virus in 10 prisons, many of which are facing complete lockdown, they said. At least four deaths have also been reported from the state prisons.
Before the lockdown, 35,239 inmates were lodged in the 60 jails across the state against their official capacity to hold 24,032. Last month, after Covid-19 cases were detected at Mumbai Central Prison, better known as Arthur Road Jail, the Maharashtra Prison Department had submitted a report to a high-powered committee appointed on orders of the Supreme Court to decongest jails. The report stated that apart from the previous announcement to release undertrials facing less than seven years in jail and convicts on emergency parole, there was a need to further decongest jails by releasing 9,520 undertrials facing over seven years in jail with exceptions including those charged under offences like money laundering, terror, and rape.
Till June 22, only 2,552 of these 9,520 had been released, officials said.
While the high-powered committee had recommended the release of undertrials, officials said, since it was eventually the discretion of the court on whether to grant bail, in many cases such pleas have been rejected on grounds including the seriousness of the offence and lack of a permanent address of the accused.
Prosecutors, too, have been opposing bail on grounds including apprehensions that the accused will not remain present for the trial even as lawyers submit that stringent conditions can be imposed.
“We had received 2,839 applications from accused within the jurisdiction of Mumbai courts. A total of 2,619 applications were disposed of and 2,348 undertrials were released. In other cases, where the courts have felt that the offences were serious or there were other factors, the applications have been rejected,” said Yatin Game, secretary, Mumbai City District Legal Services Authority (DLSA).
Currently, there are 26,825 prisoners in the state jails that is still more than 3,000 beyond its official capacity of 24,032 which makes practising social-distancing norms impossible.
As many as 13 jails in the state continue to remain overcrowded including Arthur Road Jail where 2,010 prisoners are lodged in a space meant to hold only 804 prisoners. Since last month, 181 inmates and 37 staffers at the jail have been infected by the virus with prison officials stating that 188 of them have already been cured.
Within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Thane and Kalyan jails, too, are overcrowded.
Additional Director General (Prisons) Sunil Ramanand, meanwhile, had submitted before the Bombay High Court last week that mass testing of prisoners was not possible till quarantine facilities were assured.
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