The Bombay High Court on Friday heard a petition filed by two undertrial prisoners currently lodged at Harsul jail in Aurangabad accused under the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors Act challenging the decision of the High Powered Committee constituted by the State of Maharashtra to exclude those accused under Special Acts, from being released on parole or temporary bail in light of the pandemic of Covid-19.
Justice RG Avachat after hearing Advocates Pradnya Talekar and Madhavi Ayyappan issued notice to the respondents, State of Maharashtra, Maharashtra Prison Department, DG (Prisons) and the Undertrial Review Committee. The next date of hearing is April 8.
Petitioners are lodged at Harsul Jail where the sanctioned strength is 589 and the total number of inmates as on date is 1828.
"Only 74 prisoners were released on temporary basis pursuant to the decision of the High Powered Committee. As such, the prison remains overcrowded even today, and no social distancing has been possible. It poses a certain risk to the inmates, the officials guarding prisons and the nation at large which is using its entire might to battle the situation", the petition states.
The Supreme Court in an order dated March 23 directed all states and Union Territories to set up high level committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on parole for four to six weeks in order to avoid overcrowding in prisons.
Consequently, State of Maharashtra constituted a High Powered Committee on March 24 chaired by the Chairman of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority. In a meeting on March 25, guidelines for release of the prisoners were framed by the Committee. The Committee directed prisoners (both undertrial and convicts) who are accused of offences punishable with 7 years or less, shall be released on temporary bail or parole.
Thereafter, the State Home Minister in a press note notified the release of 11,000 inmates from 45 prisons across the State for 45 days on emergency parole.
However, the petitioners argued that the High Powered Committee has made "a rather artificial distinction" between the prisoners who are accused of offences under the IPC and the Special Acts.
Due to the said unreasonable classification drawn by the Committee, only some 1000 prisoners have been released, thereby frustrating the very purpose of the directions of the Apex Court, the petition states.
Although the petitioners are accused of offences under the MPID Act wherein the maximum punishment is 6 years, making them otherwise eligible for bail, they are left out due to the arbitrary classification made by the Committee.
As reported earlier, senior lawyer SB Talekar had written to the Chief Minister and Home Minister of the State to implement SC's order and soon thereafter, a group of 130 lawyers including senior advocates like Indira Jaising, Gayatri Singh, Mihir Desai, Gayatri Singh, Sanjay Singhvi, BA Desai wrote to the CM and Chief Justice urging them to consider releasing those charged under serious offences like MCOCA, PMLA, UAPA and NDPS Act.
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