The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all states and Union Territories to ensure through Director Generals of Police (DGPs) that prisoners released from jails get safe transit, so that they can reach their homes amid the lockdown due to coronavirus.
The top court said the prisoners be given the option of staying in temporary shelter homes during the period of lockdown. A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao issued the directions in the matter taken up suo motu (on its own) on the conditions of prisons during coronavirus pandemic.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appointed amicus curiae by the top court, said the prisoners who have been released according to the guidelines framed by the high-powered committees in various states are stranded because they have no means to reach their homes.
Attorney General KK Venugopal said it is very unjust that the prisoners who are released have been left stranded in absence of any transportation.
"In these circumstances, we consider it appropriate to direct that Union of India shall ensure that all the prisoners having been released by the States/Union Territories are not left stranded and they are provided transportation to reach their homes or given the option to stay in temporary shelter homes for the period of lockdown," the bench said.
It added that for this purpose, the Centre may issue appropriate directions under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, or any other law for the time being in force.
"We further direct that the States/Union Territories shall ensure through Directors General of Police to provide safe transit to the prisoners who have been released so that they may reach their homes. They shall also be given an option for staying in temporary shelter homes during the period of lockdown. Ordered accordingly," the bench said.
The top court had on March 23, directed all states and UTs to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to 7-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of coronavirus.
It said overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern, particularly in the present context of coronavirus (COVID-19).
In regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it has become imperative to ensure that the spread of coronavirus within the prisons is controlled, the court had said.
The top court had said it would be open for the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate.
It also directed that the Undertrial Review Committee set up by the court in another matter, shall meet every week and take such decision in consultation with the concerned authority.
It had directed that there should not be any delay in shifting sick person to a Nodal Medical Institution in case of any possibility of infection is seen and prison specific readiness and response plans must be developed in consultation with medical experts.
The top court added that looking into the possible threat of transmission and fatal consequences, it is necessary that prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including under trials.
On March 16, the top court had taken suo motu 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.