Following the Supreme Court order on May 7 and Bombay High Court direction on April 29, a meeting of the High-Powered Committee (HPC) was convened to discuss decongestion of prisons amid the surge in Covid-19 cases.
The meetings that took place on May 7 and May 11, have resulted in the decision to release all prisoners who were granted temporary bail last year when the first wave broke out. The HPC has thus said, “After considering all the relevant factors as aforesaid, this Committee reiterates that all the prisoners, who fall in the category or class of prisoners held eligible for being released in terms of the Minutes of the Meeting of the High-Power Committee dated 25th March, 2020 and 11th May, 2020, read with Corrigendum dated 18th May, 2020, shall continue to be entitled to considered favourably for temporary release.”
The HPC has also issued guidelines and recommendations with respect to pending applications before the court. Currently, there are 12,571 interim bail applications listed before the different courts in the state. The Committee has decided that all these 12,571 applications and “all other applications for interim bail filed during the interregnum claiming benefit of the decisions of the High-Power Committee shall be decided within 10 days from today i.e., on or before 20 May 2021.”
Further, pleas pertaining to emergency paroles have been directed to be decided “within a period of 10 days from today i.e., on or before 20 May 2021.” Around 3,182 prisoners’ application for interim bail has been rejected. The HPC has now recommended that all these prisoners are eligible to re-apply for bail and the court will decide these applications afresh “without being influenced by the earlier orders passed by the Courts.”
Amongst these convicted prisoners and undertrials, people who are above the age of 65 years and have comorbidities (as spelt out by the India Council for Medical Research) shall be considered more “sympathetically” notwithstanding the rejection of their earlier pleas.
They have suggested that all Commissioners, Superintendents of all districts in Maharashtra shall issue necessary advisories and instructions to the Officers-in-Charge of all police stations to ensure that the Arnesh Kumar guidelines are strictly followed. The operative part of the judgment will be circulated to all officers-in-charge of police stations.
The Supreme Court had recently ordered that the Police will not make arrests against the guidelines laid down in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar, which had held that arrests should be an exception in cases where the offences are punishable with less than 7 years imprisonment.
According to the Bombay High Court direction, 1,182 convicted prisoners are also entitled to this temporary relief. The HPC has recommended that they be released on temporary parole in the next 10 days.
The HPC has further recommended that all prisoners and jail staff must go through regular testing. “Appropriate medical facilities and treatments be made available to the prisoners and prison staff who are afflicted by the coronavirus,” read the notification.
Prisoners and all jail staffers have to be vaccinated at the earliest by conducting vaccination drives as and when sufficient stocks are made available. It also suggested the Home Department of the Maharashtra Government to take up the issue of vaccination with the Health department so as to set up vaccination centres in all prisons of Maharashtra. Separate isolation cells within the jail premises will be set up too.
Through its May 7 order, the Supreme Court had directed the HPCs constituted by the State Governments/Union Territories to consider the release of prisoners by adopting the guidelines followed by them last year, at the earliest, reported SabrangIndia.
Originally Published in Sabrang India