HPC to hold meeting on Tuesday evening on release of prisoners during COVID: HC told

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New Delhi, May 4 (PTI) A High Powered Committee (HPC), set up on Supreme Court orders to look into decongesting jails to prevent spread of COVID-19, would be holding a meeting in the evening to consider the release of prisoners in jails in the national capital, the Delhi High Court was told on Tuesday by the state legal services authority, DSLSA.

The submission was made before a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh by DSLSA (Delhi State Legal Services Authority) member secretary Kanwal Jeet Arora during the hearing of three petitions seeking temporary release, on bail or parole, of prisoners involved in non-heinous crimes in order to decongest the three jails in the national capital which are filled beyond capacity.

In view of the submission, the court listed the matter for further hearing on May 13.

During the brief hearing, Delhi government standing counsel Santosh K Tripathi, appearing for the prison department, told the bench that in view of several hundred COVID positive cases in the jails a proposal has been sent to the government for considering release on parole around 890 convicts.

'It is proposed by the prison department that in view of the fresh wave of COVID-19, which is much stronger than last year, the government may again consider granting emergency parole to eligible convicts, to ease down the overcrowding in jails, in the interest of safety of inmates.

'Accordingly, the prison department has written a letter to the Delhi government on April 26 proposing that 890 convicts who were granted emergency parole earlier and who surrendered after expiry of the same, with no adverse report, may immediately be granted emergency parole of eight weeks,,,' the Director General (DG) of Prisons has said.

It has also said that the prison department has taken all preventive measures as advised by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the inmates, but despite the precautions and preventive measures, the coronavirus cases are being detected in jails.

According to the affidavit, 260 inmates and 114 prison staff were COVID positive as on April 27.

The department has also said that with regard to undertrial prisoners (UTPs) also it has made a suggestion that where the offences they are booked under carry a punishment of 7 years or less, they should be released on bail or interim bail as the new wave of COVID-19 'was much stronger and worse than last year'.

The department has also suggested that those UTPs who were released on interim bail earlier and surrendered back without any violation of any terms and conditions, may be considered for regular bail as this would also help to reduce overcrowding in the jails.

The petitioners, including advocate Shobha Gupta, have contended that at a time when there was a surge in the COVID-19 infection, de-congestion of the prisons was necessary as they were filled much beyond their capacity.

'That the present total number of inmates as on April 7 is 17,285 as against a total capacity of 10,026 of the three jails -- Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini,' one of the petitions before the court has said.

The petitioners have sought immediate release of 'all the under trials and convicted prisoners on interim bail/parole with maximum imprisonment upto 7 years and fine (non–heinous crime) in Tihar Jail, Mandoli Jail and Rohini Jail'.

They have also sought temporary release of prisoners who were previously released and those who have surrendered on the basis of good conduct and also those who are suffering from any ailment. PTI HMP RKS RKS