New Delhi: The Supreme Court today asked all states to consider releasing prisoners facing sentences of up to seven years in order to decongest prisons in light of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde directed the states to form a high-powered committee comprising the Principal Secretary of the Home Department, the Chairman of the State Legal Services Authority, and the Director General of Prisons to consider various steps for de-congesting the prisons.
Notably, this committee is in charge of determining which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.
The Court clarified that, is “open for the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released…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.”
“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 has also issued general directions to the States and Union Territories to ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials to minimise the risk of viral transmission. As highlighted in the order,
“The issue of overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern particularly in the present context of the pandemic of Corona Virus (COVID–19) … 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.”