COVID-19: Plea in SC for fresh guidelines on decongestion of prisons

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New Delhi, May 27 (PTI) A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking fresh guidelines, including the possibility of house arrest in appropriate cases, for decongestion of prisons across the country in view of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition claimed that the earlier directions passed by the apex court in this regard were not followed by the authorities concerned and prisoners are at maximum risk of contracting COVID-19 as a result of the congested, crammed-up spaces in jails.

The plea further sought directions to NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) for formulation of a fresh 'Standard Operating Procedure' in view of the 'imminent and confirmed third wave of COVID-19 pandemic'.

Taking note of the 'unprecedented surge' in COVID-19 cases, a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana on May 8 had passed a slew of directions in the suo motu case to decongest prisons and ordered immediate release of those prisoners who were granted bail or parole in March 2020. The fresh petition, filed by All India Association of Jurists, submitted that the classification of inmates eligible for release on parole and interim bail by the 'High-Powered Committee' (HPC) was unreasonable, arbitrary and unjust.

The plea urged the apex court to direct consideration of house arrest in appropriate cases and for strict assurance that not more than half of the capacity of jail premises are occupied at any given time in view of the prevailing pandemic.

In its order earlier this month, the apex court had directed the HPC to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole and interim bail.

The fresh plea claimed that the HPC has failed in exercising its discretionary powers by doing so without proper application of judicial mind. The top court had earlier observed that the decongestion of prisons housing around four lakh inmates across the country is a matter concerning 'health and right to life of' prisoners and police personnel.

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

On March 16, 2020, the top court had taken suo motu cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country and had said it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. PTI UK SJK RKS RKS

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