28 Jan 2022 8:02 AM GMT
On Friday, the Supreme Court asked the State of Kerala to not insist the prisoners already released on interim bail or parole to surrender when the State is witnessing a surge in the COVID-19 cases. "Please instruct the Government not to take coercive action against persons who are out and even for persons in jail see what you can do to them", a bench led by Justice Nageswara Rao told...
On Friday, the Supreme Court asked the State of Kerala to not insist the prisoners already released on interim bail or parole to surrender when the State is witnessing a surge in the COVID-19 cases.
"Please instruct the Government not to take coercive action against persons who are out and even for persons in jail see what you can do to them", a bench led by Justice Nageswara Rao told Senior Advocate PV Surendranath, who was appearing for the State of Kerala.
While hearing a batch of petitions filed against the State of Kerala for insisting prisoners, who were released by the State Government on parole or interim bail in wake of COVID-19, to surrender, a Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai asked the State to examine the COVID-19 situation in the jail and consider releasing the prisoners who are still in prison, for the time being.
"Now, you don't insist on people coming back. Examine the position in jails, if the position of COVID in jail is bad, see to it that people go home and come back", the bench said.
The Supreme Court in a suo motu writ petition considered the issue of overcrowding in prisons, especially in the wake of the pandemic and issued notice to the concerned States authorities to show cause as to why directions should not be issued for dealing with the health crisis arising out of COVID-19 in the prisons. By its order dated 23.03.2020, it directed the States/Union Territories to constitute a High Powered Committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or interim bail. After overall scrutiny the committee was to determine the category of prisoners who could be released.
A number of prisoners were released on parole. The petitioner, Dolphy, who has completed 14 years in prison, was also released on parole on the recommendation of the Kerala High Power Committee ("KHPC") for 14 days. In the meanwhile, on 07.05.2021, the Apex Court extended the parole for prisoners who were released on recommendation of the KHPC for a period of 30 days and eventually on 16.07.2021, the Court passed an order that those released on interim bail ought not to be asked to surrender until further orders. In consonance with the order of the Supreme Court, Government of Kerala by its order dated 06.08.2021, extended parole date till 23.08.2021. Upon consideration of representations seeking further extension, the parole date was extended to 15.09.2021. Though the petitioner was on parole, it appears that the Jail Authorities were orally asking the prisoners released on parole to surrender in September 2021, even when the COVID-19 situation in Kerala had not improved.
Senior Advocate S. Nagamuthu appearing on behalf of the petitioner apprised the Bench there are two categories of people, those who were released on interim bail as per the direction issued by the Supreme Court; on the recommendation of the KHPC and those released on parole by the Government as per the existing rules. When directions were issued by the Government to surrender, some surrendered while others did not. Thereafter, the Apex Court was approached, which directed the State to extend the benefit given to the prisoner released on interim bail to the ones on parole and not insist on surrendering.
"There are two categories of people. 1. those released on interim bail on direction issued by this Court; on recommendation of committee. They are still on bail. Two, those released on parole by Govt. as per present rules. Directions issued by Govt. to surrender. Many surrendered, many didn't. This Hon'ble Court issued directions that what applies to those who are in interim bail would also apply to these people - they need not surrender. Those who were released on parole, they were directed to surrender, they did."
Considering the present COVID-19 surge in the State of Kerala, Mr. Nagamuthu beseeched the Bench to allow all prisoners, irrespective of category, to be released for the time being.
"Situation is Kerala has not improved. My submission is that irrespective of category the benefit of staying out of prison to save their lives, be continued."
The Bench noted that the COVID-19 situation in Kerala is indeed bad and asked the State not to insist prisoners to surrender.
"Present situation is bad in your state - 55,000 cases yesterday. Why are you insisting these people to come back?"
Senior Advocate, Mr. P.V. Surendranath appearing on behalf of the State of Kerala assured the Bench to consider the suggestions put forth by it, but he protested the allegation that the directions to surrender were issued in the teeth of the orders of the Apex court.
[Case Title: Dolphy Vs State of Kerala W.P.(C) No. 1067/2021 and connected matters]
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