COVID-19| No prisoner shall be released without taking appropriate steps if he/she has suffered from coronavirus disease

Supreme Court: After the Court  had, on March 23, 2020, 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 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar, JJ has further directed that no prisoner shall be released if he/she has suffered from coronavirus disease in communicable form hereafter.

The said direction came after Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted before the Court that the release and transportation of the prisoners would itself result in transmission of coronavirus from prisons or detention centres to locations where the released prisoners have to reach.

Directions on release of prisoners suffering from Coronavirus

  • No prisoner shall be released if he/she has suffered from coronavirus disease in communicable form hereafter. For this purpose, appropriate tests will be carried out.
  • If it is found that a prisoner who has been released is suffering from coronavirus after the release, necessary steps will be taken by the concerned authority by placing him/her in appropriate quarantine facility.
  • Transportation shall be done in full compliance of the Rules and Norms of social distancing. For instance, no transportation shall be allowed in excess of half or one fourth capacity of the bus as may be found appropriate to ensure that the passengers who have been found to be free of coronavirus disease are at a distance from each other.
  • The order dated 23.03.2020 shall be applicable to correctional homes, detention centres and protection homes.

On compulsory release of prisoners by all States/UTs

On being informed that the State of Bihar has not found it appropriate to release the prisoners for complete absence of any patient suffering from coronavirus within the prisons and also for the reason that the prisons are not overcrowded, the Court made it clear that it has not directed the States/ Union Territories to compulsorily release the prisoners from their respective prisons.

It was brought to the Court’s notice that a prisoner who was “accused” of suffering from coronavirus was murdered in Bihar. The Court, however, said,

“The purpose of our aforesaid order was to ensure the States/Union Territories to assess the situation in their prisons having regard to the outbreak of the present pandemic in the country and release certain prisoners and for that purpose to determine the category of prisoners to be released.”

On release of prisoners declared as foreigners under the Foreigners Act, 1946

The Court accepted the prayer that the period of three years for release of prisoners declared as foreigners be reduced to one year so that detenues who have completed 7 more than two years may be release.

The Court had, on  10.05.2019, in Supreme Court Legal Services Committee v. Union of India directed that the release of detenues who have served long period of detention in the detention centres awaiting their deportation is concerned, we are of the view that detenues who have completed more than three years may be released.

The Court, modifying it’s earlier order, held,

“we see no reason why the period should not be reduced from three years to two years, that is to say, the prisoners or detenues who have been under detention for two years shall be entitled to be released on the same terms and conditions as those laid down in the aforesaid order dated 10.05.2019, except that they shall not be required to furnish a bond in the sum of Rs.1,00,000/- (Rupees one lakh only). Instead they shall be required to furnish a bond in the sum of Rs.5,000/- (Rupees five thousand only) with two sureties of the 8 like sum of Indian citizens.”

[IN RE : CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN PRISONS, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 365, order dated 13.04.2020]

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