It also directed the high-powered committees to consider the release of fresh prisoners
Supreme Court of India. Credit: PTI File Photo
The Supreme Court has stressed limiting arrest, the release of prison inmates and taking care of patients for effective management of Covid-19 pandemic inside overburdened jails of the country.
Noting that India has more than four lakh prisoners, the top court said, the requirement of de-congestion of jails is a matter concerning health and right to life of both the inmates and the police personnel.
Acting suo motu, a bench presided over by Chief Justice N V Ramana directed the high-powered committee, formed last year in every state, to consider releasing prisoners from jails across the country, in view of the raging second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
“Overcrowding of prisons is a phenomenon, plaguing several countries including India. Some prisoners might not be willing to be released in view of their social background and the fear of becoming victims of the deadly virus. In such extraordinary cases, the authorities are directed to be considerate to the concerns of the inmates,” the court also said.
It said the spread of the virus should be controlled by regular testing of the prisoners and staff and maintaining and improving levels of daily hygiene and sanitation.
“The rapid proliferation of the virus amongst the inmates of congested prisons is a matter of serious concern,” it said.
The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, passed a slew of directions on Friday in the suo motu matter ‘In Re: Contagion of Covid-19 Virus in Prisons’ registered last year, to decongest jails, after hearing Attorney General K K Venugopal and senior advocate Colin Gonsalves.
“This court, being the ‘sentinel on the qui vive’ (watchful guardian) of the fundamental rights, needs to strictly control and limit the authorities from arresting accused in contravention of guidelines laid down in Arnesh Kumar Vs State of Bihar during pandemic,” the bench said.
The court had in the Arnesh Kumar case (2014) case directed against the mechanical and casual arrest of people in offences with a maximum seven-year of jail term.
In addition to considering fresh release, the court directed that the high-powered panel should forthwith set free all the inmates, who had been released earlier following the order of March 23, 2020, by imposing appropriate conditions, as “such an exercise is mandated in order to save valuable time”.
Further, those inmates who were granted parole, pursuant to earlier orders, should be again be given the same relief for a period of 90 days in order to tide over the pandemic, the bench directed.