SC Stays Delhi HC Order Ending Bail Extension of Undertrial Prisoners Amid Covid-19
The Supreme Court Thursday stayed a Delhi High Court order which had directed all undertrial prisoners whose bail period was extended due to theCOVID-19 lockdown to surrender in a phased manner between November 2-13. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi also issued notice to the Delhi government and others on the plea challenging the HC order and sought their replies.
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed bythe National Forum for Prison Reforms (NFPR) against a Delhi high court orderwhich decided that its blanket order extending all interim stays and bails granted prior to and during the COVID-19 lockdown would not remain in effect after October 31. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Ajay Verma appeared for the petitioner in the case.
The NFPR in its plea before the apex court said the direction of the high court is completely against the spirit of the order dated Match 23, 2020 passed by it wherein the HC had brushed aside, without even perusing, the eight recommendations/ orders of its own High Powered Committee (HPC) appointed by the top court. The plea said the HC order was passed by grossly misunderstanding the data presented to it and wrongly concluding that only three coronavirus cases existed among the 16,000 inmates.
Secondly, the observations regarding release of undertrial prisoners in jails on the allegation that they had committed heinous crimes was dealt with by the HPC carefully and reasons given, but these have not even been looked at, it said. The high court in its order had said all undertrials whose bail period was extended have to surrender in a phased manner between November 2 and November 13.
The court had said the order would also be applicable to 356 prisoners who were granted bail by the high court and they would have to surrender before the jail authorities on November 13. The high court on August 24 had extended till October 31 all the interim orders which were to expire on or after August 31 in cases that are before it as also the district courts in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The high court had said bail granted by the trial courts to 2,318 undertrial prisoners involved in heinous crimes and which was being extended from time to time on the basis of the high court's blanket extension order, would come to an end on October 31 and all of them have to surrender in a phased manner between November 2- 13.
The surrender process would start on November 2 with the prisoners of Central District, Tis Hazari Courts and would culminate on November 13 with the surrender of prisoners from Rouse Avenue Courts Complex, New Delhi, the high court said in its order of October 20. The high court had said the interim bail and interim stay extension order of March 25, which was extended from time to time, "wasnecessitated because functioning of the courts was curtailed due to complete lockdown declared on March 25", but "now the situation has changed and all the courts at high court and district court level are functioning through physical mode/video conference mode".
Another reason given by the bench for modifying its March 25 order was that there is no spread of COVID-19 in the jails and out of about 16,000 prisoners only 3 are infected and they have been segregated and are admitted in hospital. The high court bench had said its order would also be applicable to those 356 prisoners who were granted bail.
On March 25, the high court had extended till May 15 the interim orders in all matters pending before it and subordinate courts in view of the lockdown. Thereafter, the relief was extended from time-to-time and it was last extended till October 31 on August 24.