A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court for directing the State Governments to enforce the top court's directions in terms of its March 23 order, wherein States were asked to consider release of a class of prisoners from jails to counteract the Coronavirus pandemic.
The application has been filed by way of a prayer for impleadment in the Suo Motu writ petition, which was taken up by the CJI led bench in order to enforce measures to contain the contagion of COVID-19 virus in prisons across the country.
An order had been passed by a bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices L.N. Rao & Surya Kant whereby it was directed that all States and Union Territories were required to set up "high level committees" to determine class of prisoners who could be released on parole for four to six weeks. In terms of the order, this would result in decongestion of prisons and would in turn curb furtherance of the Coronavirus outbreak.
"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 seven years or less, with or without fine, and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the maximum,'' said the top court's order.
The application has been filed by Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), a think tank working towards governance and judicial reforms and has urged the Supreme Court to issue appropriate directions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. It points out that as "novel coronavirus is an epidemic of unforeseen scale", it requires "novel measures" and decongesting jails must be "given priority".
In light of this, the petition states,
"That while the entire country has been put under lockdown, it does not in any way reduce the chances of spreading of COVID-19 in prisons. It is because of the rampant overcrowding and lack of medical facilities that the Hon'ble Court institutes this Suo Motu Writ Petition."
The petitioner has also drawn a comparison with other countries such as the United States that have released inmates due to coronavirus fears.
"Similarly, Iran had released about 85,000 prisoners due to coronavirus. India has fifth highest prison population and thus should take all due precautions" – Petitioner has averred.
Inter alia, the petition has also offered its assistance to the court and government "through its network of law interns and committed individuals" in order to assist the authorities in identification & release of prisoners.