New Delhi, May 08, 2021: The Supreme Court on Saturday passed a detailed order on decongesting prisons amid the raging second wave of Covid-19, saying that the police should not arrest the accused unless necessary in crimes sentenced with less than seven years of imprisonment, and directed authorities to ensure that proper medical facilities are provided to the inmates.
The high-powered committees constituted by the state governments and Union territories have been asked to identify and release the vulnerable categories of prisoners on an urgent basis.
The Supreme Court also directed that prisoners who were granted parole last year should again be given a 90-day furlough in order to tide over pandemic.
"The high-powered committee, in addition to considering fresh release, should forthwith release all the inmates who had been released earlier pursuant to our order dated March 23, 2020 by imposing appropriate conditions. Such an exercise is mandated in order to save valuable time," the court said.
On March 23 last year, the top court had asked states and UTs to form high-level committees for considering releasing interim bail prisoners, inmates on parole and undertrials for offences not more than seven years in order to reduce overcrowding in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the order, the court also noted that overcrowding of prisons is a phenomenon, plaguing several countries including India.
The court observed that steps should be taken to control the spread of Covid-19 by conducting regular testing of both prisoners and jail staff and immediate treatment should be made available to them.
"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," the order said.
The court noted that some prisoners might not be willing to be released in view of their social background and the fear of getting infected with the virus. "In such extraordinary cases, the authorities are directed to be considerate to the concerns of the inmates," it noted.
Highlighting that the country has over four lakh prison inmates and some prisons are already housing inmates beyond the optimal capacity, the court noted, "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 order comes after a high-powered committee constituted to decongest jails to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has said there is a need to release prisoners on interim bail for 90 days or eight weeks parole in view of the "alarming" and "threatening" situation of the pandemic in the national capital.
The committee has said that in such a situation, which was much more dangerous than last year, and with the prisons in Delhi holding almost double their capacity of prisoners, it has not only stressed the jail administration but has also "jeopardised the necessity of observing social distancing, which is the need of the hour to prevent the spread of virus amongst the inmates".