In the backdrop of an unprecedented COVID-19 crisis prevailing in the country, the Supreme Court on Saturday passed a slew of directions to decongest prisons and ordered forthwith release of all those prisoners who were granted bail or parole last year due to the pandemic.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant said: "We direct that, those inmates who were granted parole, pursuant to our earlier orders, should be again granted a parole for a period of 90 days in order to tide over the pandemic."
The top court noted that the Attorney General requested for relaxation of handcuffing of the prisoners as during the present outbreak of COVID19 there is a great danger of spread of the virus to the police personnel who have to hold the hands of the accused while being escorted.
"We may notice that India has more than four lakh prison inmates. It is observed that some of the prisons in India are overburdened and are housing inmates beyond optimal capacity. In this regard, we may notice that the requirement of decongestion is a matter concerning health and right to life of both the prison inmates and the police personnel working," the bench noted in its order.
The bench added that the fight against the pandemic is greatly benefitted by transparent administration. The bench further added that all those prisoners who were allowed to go out on bail in March last year by the high-powered committees of states and UTs, constituted following top court's order, be granted the same relief without reconsideration by HPCs to avoid delay.
"In this regard, our attention was drawn to example of Delhi, wherein the prison occupancy is updated in websites. Such measures are required to be considered by other states and should be adopted as good practice. Moreover, all the decisions of HighPowered Committees need to be published on respective State Legal Service Authorities/State Governments/High Courts websites in order to enable effective dissemination of information," said the top court in its order.
The top court said the High-Powered Committee, in addition to considering fresh release, should forthwith release all the inmates who had been released earlier pursuant to order passed on March 23, 2020 by imposing appropriate conditions. Such an exercise is mandated in order to save valuable time, added the bench.
The top court also noted that there needs to be strict control by authorities from arresting accused in contravention of guidelines laid down by the top court in Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar during pandemic.
"The fight against the pandemic is greatly benefitted by transparent administration. In this regard, our attention was drawn to example of Delhi, wherein the prison occupancy is updated in websites. Such measures are required to be considered by other States and should be adopted as good practice," added the top court.
The bench also noted that all the decisions of HighPowered Committees need to be published on respective State Legal Service Authorities/State Governments/High Courts websites in order to enable effective dissemination of information.
"The spread of COVID-19 virus should be controlled in the prisons by regular testing being done of the prisoners but also the jail staff and immediate treatment should be made available to the inmates and the staff. It is necessary to maintain levels of daily hygiene and sanitation required to be improved. Suitable precautions shall be taken to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus amongst the inmates of prisons," said the top court in its order.
The bench added that appropriate steps should be taken for transportation of the released inmates of the prisons, if necessary, in view of the curfews and lockdown in some states.
The Attorney General also submitted that prisons need to be decongested by release of some prisoners in view of the grim situation. He submitted that the HighPowered Committees may be permitted to adopt the procedure that was followed earlier and release the prisoners on the basis of the guidelines formulated by them last year.