Supreme Court Relief For Prisoners Released Amid Second Wave Of Covid (16-07-2021)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday ordered that prisoners, who were released by the high-powered committees (HPCs) of states during the second wave of coronavirus following its May 7 directions, will not be asked to surrender until further orders.

The top court also directed the state governments and their HPCs to file within five days the guidelines being adopted by them to implement the order on the release of prisoners for decongesting jails during the second wave of the pandemic.

A three-judge special bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana gave examples of Haryana and Tripura HPCs saying they have been considering aspects such as old age and co-morbidities of prisoners, besides other grounds, for releasing them.

The top court also asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to file a report after getting details from the state HPCs about the rules followed by them in implementing the May 7 order.

“So far as the prisoners, who have been released by the high powered committees following the order, should not be asked to surrender back to jail till further orders,” the bench said.

At the outset, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who is assisting the bench as amicus curiae, said that he has been getting information from some lawyers that prisoners, who have been released pursuant to May 7 order during the second wave, are being asked to surrender back.

Mr Dave urged that the states be restrained from asking the released prisoners to surrender back for some time in view of the threat of the third wave of the pandemic.

“We have not reached that stage where people, who have been released, should be sent back,” the bench said, adding that it wanted to know how its May 7 order was implemented by the states.

The guidelines, being adopted by HPCs of states, should be uniform across the nation, it observed.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the HPCs should place the guidelines before the bench.

The bench, which has now fixed the case for hearing on August 3, said that the litigants having “individual grievances” may give their applications to the amicus curiae for necessary action.

On March 16, 2020, the top court had taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country and said it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Supreme Court, on March 23, 2020, had ordered all states and Union Territories to constitute high-powered committees (HPCs) to consider releasing prisoners and the under-trials for offences entailing up to a seven-year jail term on parole or interim bail to decongest the prisons in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.

Later, the bench headed by the CJI took note of the “unprecedented surge” in COVID-19 cases again and on May 7 this year ordered the immediate release of prisoners who were granted bail or parole last year.

It observed that the decongestion of prisons, housing around four lakh inmates across the country, is a matter concerning the “health and right to life” of prisoners and police personnel.

All those who were allowed to go out on bail in March last year by the high-powered committees of states and Union Territories be granted the same relief without any reconsideration to avoid delay, the top court had said.

“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,” it had said.


18 Jul 2021