Mumbai: Taking note of the "serious situation" arising from a high number of prisoners and jail staff testing positive for COVID-19, the State-appointed High-Power Committee has ordered that all 60 prisons across Maharashtra be decongested.
This will be accomplished by releasing 50 per cent of the inmates lodged in various jails. This means at least 17,642 inmates of the total 35,239 prisoners would be released on temporary bail, initially for a period of 45 days.
As many as 158 prison inmates and 26 prison staff at Arthur Road jail tested positive for COVID-19 recently, and an inmate of the Byculla women’s jail has also tested positive.
The committee’s decision only applies to undertrials who have been charged for an offence punishable for seven years or more under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The committee also clarified its order would not apply to prisoners or convicts accused of serious offences like waging war against the nation, murder, rape, kidnapping, bank frauds or financial scams and tampering with property marks.
The committee headed by Justice Amjad Sayed of the Bombay High Court further clarified that its orders would not apply to convicts or undertrials convicted or charged under special laws such as POCSO, MPID, NDPS, MCOCA and other terror related offences. Notably, 1,340 inmates of the total prison population are above the age of 60. "A majority of these would be able to avail of the benefit under this order.
For the remaining senior citizen inmates, with underlying medical conditions, which puts them at higher risk for severe illnesses from COVID-19, all concerned authorities, including jail superintendents, shall take appropriate measures, including their isolation," the committee said in its order.
The committee, also comprising Sanjay Chahande, Additional Chief Secretary (State Home Department) and S N Pandey, Director General of Prisons, has also said that foreigners, who are lodged in jail cannot be released.
"Even prisoners, who live out of Maharashtra, cannot avail of the benefit under this order, at least till the lockdown is lifted or public transport resumes," the order reads. The committee’s order comes after the Supreme Court directed it to take a decision at the earliest.