A senior lawyer has written to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Home Minister and the Additional Chief Secretary (Appeals & Security) seeking immediate steps in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic of Corona Virus in prisons and implement Supreme Court's recent order directing States and UTs to consider granting parole to prisoners in lesser offences.
Looking into the possible threat of transmission of the possibly fatal virus, the Supreme Court had directed the State Governments/UTs to take steps to ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrial prisoners.
Apex court had directed all States and UTs to constitute a High Powered Committee comprising of the Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) and Director General of Prison(s), to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.
"For instance, the State/Union Territory could consider the release of prisoners who have been convicted or are undertrial for offences for which prescribed punishment is up to 7 years or less, with or without fine and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the maximum", apex court had observed.
Advocate SB Talekar, who is a former Chairman of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa and former President of the Bar Association of the bench at Aurangabad, wrote that even though the Supreme Court had passed orders on March 16, till date a high power committee is yet to be set up and no steps have been taken to decongest the State's prisons.
The letter states-
"State of Maharashtra has an existing policy of releasing the convicts who are convicted for a period of 14 years and have crossed the age of 65 years. However, keeping in view the impact of COVID-19 on the persons who have crossed 50 years of age, it has become necessary to modify the said policy and release the persons who have crossed the age of 55 years and are sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment with immediate effect."
The letter highlights the fact that the sanctioned capacity of all the jails in Maharashtra taken together is 24032 whereas as on February 29, 2020 there were around 36713 inmates. Thus, the prisons are already overcrowded and functioning beyond the sanctioned capacity.
"It has, therefore, become necessary to take immediate steps as per the directions of the Hon'ble Supreme Court so as to ensure decongestion of the prisons so as to enable the measure of social-distancing in all the possible places", the letter states.
Other suggestions for steps to be taken to ensure that the virus is not transmitted amongst the inmates are-
(i) Direct the prison authorities to invoke Section 436A and release the persons who have already undergone half of the total imprisonment on their personal bond with or without surety.
(ii) In addition to decongesting the existing prisons, it has become all the more necessary to ensure that no new prisoners are inducted and are mixed up with the other prisoners.
(iii) In addition to the release of prisoners, transfer of the prisoners from the overcrowded prisons to the prisons which are less crowded is also an effective measure. Some of the District Prisons are less occupied as against their sanctioned capacity. An attempt to transfer the prisoners from Central Prisons to District Prisons shall be an effective measure to decongest the existing prisons.
Advocate Talekar sought the constitution of a High Powered Committee immediately and directions to the prison officials to remain present with the statistics of all such inmates who are eligible to be released on the aforesaid parameters.