The state government has issued a notification to amend the Maharashtra Prisons Rules to enable granting of emergency parole to convicts during the current coronavirus pandemic. The new rule will be conditionally applicable till the time the Epidemic Diseases Act is in force.
Three days after national lockdown was ordered, the Maharashtra government had announced that nearly 11,000 inmates — both undertrials and convicts who have been incarcerated for lesser and non-heinous offences that attract less than seven years of maximum sentence — will be released either on provisional bail or parole, to reduce the crowding in prisons. The latest notification is crucial as two days ago, the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai reported over 100 Covid-19 cases among its inmates and staff.
After the process of release started on March 28, 5,105 undertrial prisoners from 37 jails across the state were released till Saturday night. The process of release of convicts was yet to begin, awaiting a statutory order from the state government inserting clauses about such release in the parole and furlough rulebook. Prison department officials said that the order, in the form of a notification, was issued late on Friday and the process of release of convicts on parole began on Saturday.
The insertion made in the Maharashtra Prisons Rules, by way of the notification, reads, “For convicted prisoners whose maximum punishment is seven years or less, on their application, shall be favourably considered for release on emergency parole by the Superintendent of Prison for a period of 45 days or till such time that the state government withdraws the notification issued under the Epidemics Diseases Act, 1897, whichever is earlier. The initial period of 45 days shall stand extended periodically in blocks of 30 days each, till such time that the said notification is in force (in the event the said notification is not issued within the first 45 days). The convicted prisoners shall report to the concerned police station within whose jurisdiction they are residing, once in every 30 days.”
The notification also stated, “For convicted prisoners whose maximum sentence is above 7 years shall, on their application, be appropriately considered for release on emergency parole by Superintendent of Prison, if the convict has returned to prison on time on last two releases (whether on parole or furlough).”
The government has, however, made exceptions for those convicted under some stringent acts, similar to the conditions put for conditional bail to undertrials. The notification states, “The aforesaid directions shall not apply to convicted prisoners convicted for serious economic offences or bank scams or offences under Special Acts (other than IPC) like MCOCA, PMLA, MPID, NDPS, UAPA and also presently to foreign nationals and prisoners having their place of residence out of the state of Maharashtra.”
At the time when process of release began, prisons in Maharashtra had a population of 36,700 as against the sanctioned strength of 24,030, an overcrowding of around 52 per cent.
Since April 9, Additional Director General (Prisons) Sunil Ramanand has ordered lockdown of five heavily-overcrowded prisons in Mumbai, Pune and Thane district — Arthur Road and Byculla Jails in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan in Thane district, and Yerawada Central Prison in Pune — in the backdrop of rapidly-growing coronavirus cases in these areas.