Supreme Court orders to decongest jails amid second wave of COVID-19

New Delhi: Concerned over an "unprecedented surge" in Covid-19 cases, the Supreme Court on Saturday ordered decongestion of prisons across the country by releasing "at the earliest" all those prisoners who were granted bail or parole in March last year and ordered authorities not to arrest mechanically in cases where the maximum sentence is up to seven years of jail.

A Bench of Chief Justice of Indi N V Ramana and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant said the prisoners who were let go by the high powered committees of states and Union Territories, following the supreme Court's order last year, be granted the same relief without reconsideration by the committees to void delay.

It also directed the high-powered committees to consider release of fresh prisoners by adopting the guidelines of the National Legal Services Authority. It also ordered action against the police officers and magistrates if a person is arrested for offences punishable with jail of less than seven years, whether with or without fine, including the cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act.

"Further we direct that, those inmates who were granted parole, pursuant to our earlier orders, should be again granted parole for a period of 90 days in order to tide over the pandemic,” the bench said in an order reserved on Friday and uploaded on the top court’s website Saturday evening, referring to its decision last year on March 25 in a suo motu writ on "contagion of Covid-19 virus in prisons."

At the request of the Centre, the Court also made Delhi Police Commissioner as a member of the high-powered committee in Delhi.

It noted that overcrowding of prisons is a phenomenon, plaguing several countries including India. Pointing out that some prisoners might not be willing to be released because of their social background and fear of becoming victims of the deadly virus, the Court said proper medical facilities be provided to all those imprisoned and the spread of the virus be controlled by regular testing of prisoners as well as jail staff and immediate treatment be provided to them.

The Court also ordered appropriate steps for transportation of the released inmates of the prisons, in view of the curfews and lockdowns in some states.

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