On Friday, the Gujarat High Court extended the period of interim bail for prisoners released pursuant to the recommendations of the High Power Committee, as a measure to decongest jails and curb the spread of Covid infection.
The order for extension has been passed by a bench of Justices J B Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora in the suo moto case registered on the issue of migrant workers and spread of COVID-19 in the state of Gujarat.
"We direct that all those accused who have been released on temporary bail upon recommendations of the High Power Committee shall continue to remain on bail for a further period of forty five days," the bench has ordered.
Based on the guidelines issued by the High Power Committee for the state of Gujarat on March 28, 2020, 1198 prisoners of a certain class were released on interim bail for a period of 2 months to decongest prisons
In a meeting of the Committee convened on May 15, it was observed that in some cases this period of two months was set to expire in a short while and in the left out cases it was to expire in June and July.
However, expressing concern over re-confinement of prisoners into jail amid the impending thread of the virus, the High Power Committee observed,
"on the completion of two months period, inmates are supposed to surrender themselves before the jail authority for readmission in jail and as number of inmates are to be admitted in jail again, the transmission of COVID-19 to number of other inmates cannot be ruled out and it is the prime responsibility of jail authority to protect the health of inmates."
In this backdrop the Committee had resolved to extend the period of interim bail for a further period of 30 days so that further transmission of COVID 19 in jails can be restricted. It had further resolved that the extended period of temporary bail of 30 days shall start running from the day on which the tenure of temporary bail of two months gets over.
The Committee had then requested the High Court to pass a general order in this behalf to prevent each and every accused from filing a separate application for extension of bail period.
In this backdrop, the High Court ordered that the period of interim bail stands extended for a period of 45 days.
The bench was also mindful of a similar order passed by the Delhi High Court on May 9, 2020, whereby the High Court had extended the interim bail granted to Under Trial Prisoners (UTPs) for a period of 45 days in light of the continuing COVID19 pandemic.
In the present order, the Gujarat High Court also made crucial observations with regard to the condition prevailing in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, a dedicated centre for COVID-19 treatment; it reinforced the public duty of private hospitals to deliver adequate healthcare during the threatening times of a pandemic; and also prevented the railways from charging two-way journey fare from the stranded migrants.
Case Title: Suo Moto v. State of Gujarat (and other batch of petitions)
Case No.: Suo Moto PIL No. 42/2020
Quorum: Justices J B Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J Vora
Click Here To Download Order