To prevent outside transmission of COVID-19 pandemic to prison, the Supreme Court on Monday directed that under-trial prisoners should not be physically produced before Courts and that video conferencing should be adopted for such purposes.
"Taking into consideration the possibility of outside transmission, we direct that the physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners before the Courts must be stopped forthwith and recourse to video conferencing must be taken for all purposes", ordered the bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
The Court was passed the order in the suo moto case "In Re : Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Prisons".
The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageshwara Rao and Surya Kant further ordered :
"Also, the transfer of prisoners from one prison to another for routine reasons must not be resorted except for decongestion to ensure social distancing and medical assistance to an ill prisoner. Also, there should not be any delay in shifting sick person to a Nodal Medical Institution in case of any possibility of infection is seen".
The Court observed that the "issue of overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern particularly in the present context of the pandemic of Corona Virus", and said, "it is necessary that prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials".
"Having regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it has become imperative to ensure that the spread of the Corona Virus within the prisons is controlled", the Court said.
Based on that, the Court directed the States/UTs to constitute a High Level Committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.
The Committee should comprise (i) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) by whatever designation is known as, (iii) Director General of Prison(s).
"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", the Court suggested.
"It is made clear that we leave it open for the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released as aforesaid, depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate", the bench observed.
The Court added that the Committee should taken into account the directions contained in para no.11 in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273.
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