A total of 130 lawyers have written to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, State Home Minister and Chief Justice of Bombay High Court expressing grave concern regarding the safety of "thousands of individuals incarcerated in prisons and other settings of detention such as observation homes, special homes, children homes, detention centers, borstal homes, etc" in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Seniors Advocates like Indira Jaising, BA Desai, Gayatri Singh, Mihir Desai, and Sanjay Singhvi are signatories to the said letter.
Although 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 in order to control the spread of Covid-19, the lawyers have urged the authorities to also consider releasing those charged under serious offences like MCOCA, PMLA, UAPA and NDPS Act.
Moreover, the letter demands that inmates who are foreign nationals should also be released calling the present categorization "unfair and shocking."
Presently, the state has decided to release the undertrial prisoners and those convicted upto 7 years imprisonment. The letter states-
"Even if categories excluded by the High Powered Committee are considered, it is imperative that vulnerable people (suggested categories) amongst those are considered for release. These are acknowledged to be high-risk categories and excluding them only on account of the nature of the crime charged with, is like giving the death sentence to them. The need of the hour is not only to decrease the overcrowding but also to ensure that people get proper access to health care."
The letter seeks to give priority to be given to the following categories of inmates, irrespective of the offences they are charged with:
1. Prisoners and/or detained in other settings above 50 years of age
2. Children in conflict with law detained at different settings
3. Prisoners and/or detained in other settings with pre-existing health conditions, 4. Prisoners and/or detained in other settings with disability and mental illness
5. Pregnant women and/or with children in prisons and/or detained in other settings
6. Women Prisoners and/or detained in other settings
7. Category of undertrial prisoners to be released in accordance to the standing order passed by the Apex Court in In Re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, (2016) 3 SCC 700.
8. Category of convicts scheduled for early release
Apart from this, the lawyers have given suggestions regarding prisoners who will not be released on parole in order to ensure their safety. A guideline for future arrests in the midst of this national lockdown has also been shared with the authorities.
Calling prisoners "the most vulnerable group", lawyers finally prayed -
"These circumstances require extraordinary measures. It is the time for the State to dramatically reduce the prison population immediately for the health of this vulnerable population and our collective health. Any restriction on the basis of the crime they are alleged to have committed is unfair and violates their fundamental rights. When this pandemic infects the prisons and/or other settings for detention, there will be unmanageable consequences, both for inmates and for the wider community. We cannot wait for this to occur and should act now."