“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.”
Supreme Court: Noticing that 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), the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, JJ has directed each State/Union Territory to constitute a High Powered Committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.
The said committee would comprise of:
- Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee,
- Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) by whatever designation is known as,
- Director General of Prison(s)
Giving example, the Court said that 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, however, left it open for the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released as aforesaid, 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.
The Court, further, directed,
- prison specific readiness and response plans must be developed in consultation with medical experts. “Interim guidance on Scaling-up COVID-19 Outbreak in Readiness and Response Operations in camps and camp like settings” jointly developed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Health Organisation (WHO), published by Inter-Agency Standing Committee of United Nations on 17 March, 2020 may be taken into consideration for similar circumstances.
- monitoring team must be set up at the state level to ensure that the directives issued with regard to prison and remand homes are being complied with scrupulously.
- the physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners before the Courts must be stopped forthwith and recourse to video conferencing must be taken for all purposes.
“Looking into the possible threat of transmission and fatal consequences, it is necessary that prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials.”
- the transfer of prisoners from one prison to another for routine reasons must not be resorted except for decongestion to ensure social distancing and medical assistance to an ill prisoner.
- there should not be any delay in shifting sick person to a Nodal Medical Institution in case of any possibility of infection is seen.
[IN RE : CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN PRISONS, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 344, order dated 23.03.2020]