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COVID-19 : SC Directs States/UTs To Consider Granting Parole To Prisoners In Lesser Offences To De-Congest Prisons [Read Order]

23 March 2020 9:20 AM GMT
COVID-19 : SC Directs States/UTs To Consider Granting Parole To Prisoners In Lesser Offences To De-Congest Prisons [Read Order]
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To avoid overcrowding in prisons in the wake of COVID pandemic, the Supreme Court on Monday directed all states and Union Territories to set up high level committees to determine class of prisoners who could be released on parole for four to six weeks

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde  observed that the prisoners convicted of or charged with offences having jail term of up to seven years can be given parole to decongest jails.

The bench suggested that the High-level committee will work in consultation with State Legal Service Authority for release of prisoners.

"We direct that each State/Union Territory shall constitute a High Powered Committee comprising of (i) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) by whatever designation is known as, (ii) 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". said the bench, also  comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant.

The SC further directed that physical presence of under trials before Courts must be stopped forthwith and video conferencing must be resorted to.

"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. 

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 passed the order in a suo moto case taken last week to deal with the issue. The Court had issued notices to all States and Union Territories.

 Expressing concern over the overcrowding of prisons, the top court had said that there are 1,339 prisons in the country housing approximately 4,66,084 inmates.

Quoting a report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), it had said the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is at 117.6 per cent, and in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, the occupancy rate is as high as 176.5 per cent and 157.3 per cent respectively.

The apex court was of the view that like most other viral diseases, the susceptibility of COVID-19 is greater in overcrowded places, mass gatherings and studies indicate that contagious viruses such as COVID-19 proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons.

The top court had said that several prison staff enter the prisons regularly, and so do visitors and lawyers and therefore, there is a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the prison inmates. 

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