The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Wednesday said arresting wasn't the solution for the first time offenders, who mostly commit crimes for money as they might have lost their source of livelihood in this pandemic. The HC accordingly ordered the Maharashtra government to submit a detailed record of FIRs registered during pandemic and the number of persons, who are arrested by the police for committing offences that have maximum punishment of seven years.
The bench while hearing a suo motu PIL taken up on the basis of coverage by Free Press Journal and one national daily newspapers on surge in Covid case in jails, was informed that a total of 17,725 FIRs were registered across Maharashtra (excluding Mumbai city) from April 4 to April 30, 2021.
"Apart from these 17,725 offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a total of 5,911 FIRs are registered under special laws," Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the judges while submitting a note.
Having heard the submission, the judges said the note submitted by AG doesn't specify the actual number of persons arrested in these offences and how many of them were first timers.
"The note also doesn't mention which are the offences and what is the punishment. We asked for the punishment as well as the offences so as to ensure that you (state) are following the Supreme Court guidelines on not to arrest people in offences that attract maximum seven years punishment," CJ Datta said.
The bench noted that there hasn't been a substantial reduction in the jail population and to this the AG told the judges that it was because of the new arrests made.
The chief justice said, "Among those arrested in all these offences, there might be some first time offenders, who are driven by penury to commit an offence. That would be because of loss of livelihood or job. This has become an issue now."
"They might steal food as they would be hungry. Thus, we think arresting them and putting them in the jails is not the solution at all," CJ Datta remarked.
Accordingly, AG Kumbhakoni assured the bench that a comprehensive data on crime rates would be furnished on the next date.
Meanwhile, the judges expressed concern over the shortfall of medical officers in the prisons. The bench suggested that the state can consider increasing the visits by government-run hospitals from once a week to daily.
During the hearing, Vijay Raghavan from TISS who is assisting the court in the matter, highlighted the absence of government hospitals in Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai and other neighbouring districts.
"Because of this, the prisoners from at least three prisons outside Mumbai are brought to J J hospital for treatment. In other districts, there are civic hospitals but there prisoners can't be admitted as it isn't permitted under the Jail Manual," Raghavan submitted.
The professor said this increases the burden over the J J hospital.
At this, AG Kumbhakoni said that in Thane the civil hospital's work is going on. CJ Datta, interrupted and said, "Mr AG your work might take some more time. Why can't you amend the prison rules and allow even civic hospitals to admit patients? Why can't you make use of existing resources till then?"
The AG said he would take instructions on this aspect and get back to the court on next hearing scheduled on Tuesday.