P&H HC | SC Order on decongestion of jails in view of COVID 19 cannot be treated as windfall for prisoners even when there is no imminent threat

Punjab and Haryana High Court: Gurvinder Singh Gill, J. dismissed an application filed for seeking interim bail in view that the jail has already been decongested and does not pose any threat with regard to transmission of spread of COVID 19 also the gravity of offense has been considered one of the factors for not granting the bail.

Petition seeking grant of interim bail on account of prevalent conditions of spread of COVID 19 virus was filed.

Petitioners contended that since a large number of inmates were confined in New District Jail, Nabha and threat of spread of COVID 19 still looms large and since a policy has in fact been framed by State Government for release of prisoners, present petitioners deserve to be released on bail.

In accordance to the above-stated policy, under-trials against whom cases have been registered for offences punishable for imprisonment for a period upto 7 years, are entitled to be released on bail and that the petitioners against whom a complaint has been filed under Section 132 of GST Act, 2017 punishable for a maximum sentence of 5 years would be covered under the policy.

State Counsel submitted that as on date there is no reported case of COVID-19 in the jail premises so as to pose any threat of spread of COVID-19 in Jail and as such the apprehension of the petitioners of contracting the virus within jail premises is misconceived.

Also, Supreme Court would not vest the petitioners with any absolute right for their release on bail as also been clarified by the Supreme Court itself.

Bench noted in the present case that, the offence assumes gravity in view of the colossal amount involved in the present case which is Rs 20 crores appx. and is certainly a factor to be borne in mind while considering the release of the petitioner on interim bail.

Allegations against the petitioner also relate to forging of bills and other documents in furtherance of their designs to cause loss to State Exchequeuer which prima-facie would also attract an offence punishable under Section 467 IPC which is punishable with imprisonment for life.

Court also noted that,

“It has been clarified by the Supreme Court that the prisoners are not to be compulsorily released.”

Object of the directions issued by Supreme Court with regard to the release of prisoners was to protect the health of the prisoners and restrict transmission of COVID 19 by decongestion of prisons.

The said move of the Supreme Court cannot be treated as — windfall for all the prisoners even when there is no imminent threat or apprehension within the jail premises as on date as regards spread of pandemic. 

Thus, adding to the above observations of the bench, Court stated that after imposition of nationwide lockdown, everything came to a grinding halt and even the inflow of fresh inmates would have been drastically reduced.

As submitted by the State Counsel, there is no reported case of COVID 19 within the premises of jail, thus it can be safely said that the prisoners in New District Jail, Nabha are relatively safe

Since the Nabha Jail already stands decongested and there is no reported case of COVID-19 within the premises of jail, therefore keeping in view the nature and gravity of offence and the amount involved this Court does not deem it appropriate to grant interim bail to the petitioner.

Application stands dismissed. [Rajinder Bassi v. State of Punjab, CRM-M-11954-2020 (O&M), decided on 17-04-2020]

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