Maharashtra panel decides to release 50% of prisoners on temporary bail to prevent spread of Covid-19
A high powered committee in Maharashtra has decided to release 50% of the 35,239 prisoners in jails across the state on temporary bail as part of measures to control the spread of Covid-19.
The order, which came a week after 184 prisoners at Arthur Road Central Prison in Mumbai tested positive for Covid-19, doesn’t give a timeframe for the release or state which category of prisoners will be sent home.
Follow latest updates on coronavirus here
The committee, headed by Justice AA Sayed and comprising additional chief secretary (home) Sanjay Chahande and director general of prisons SN Pandey, has said due process will be followed and the prisoners being released will have to secure bail.
No prisoners either charged or convicted under provisions of special laws, such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA) of 1999, the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (MPID) Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), will be released on temporary bail because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chahande said, “They (prisoners) will have to get bail. That means the due process of law will have to be followed.”
For temporary bail, eligible prisoners will have to approach the concerned court and obtain an order. Parole leave can be secured at the prisons, he said.
While deciding to release 50% of the state’s prison population, the committee on Monday rejected a representation by advocate SB Talekar, which contended the decision to not release prisoners charged or convicted under special statutes was discriminatory.
Talekar argued that blanket exclusion of the prisoners charged or convicted for offences under the special acts was arbitrary and defeated the thrust of the Supreme Court’s March 23 order to decongest prisons in the wake of the pandemic.
“In any event, the prisoners charged/convicted under the special acts including MPID Act cannot claim to be released from prison as of right. It is required to be noted that the offences under MPID Act are against large number of victims who are mostly poor depositors, and whose interests are required to be safeguarded and recoveries made from properties. The MPID Act is enacted to protect the interest of the depositors and the prisoners charged/convicted for offences under the MPID Act cannot be treated as belonging to the same class of prisoners who are to be released on interim bail or parole,” the committee said.
The Supreme Court had left it to the discretion of the high powered committee to determine which class or category of prisoners can be released on interim bail or parole, depending on the nature and severity of the offence or any other relevant factor, the Committee said while rejecting Talekar’s representation.
The Supreme Court, in its order, said, “We direct that each State/Union Territory shall constitute a High Powered Committee comprising of (I) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) by whatever designation is known as, (ii) Director General of Prison(s), to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.”
The apex court had cited an instance and said, “For instance, the State/Union Territory could consider the release of prisoners who have been convicted or are under-trial for offences for which prescribed punishment is up to 7 years or less, with or without fine and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the maximum.”
In a subsequent order dated April 13, the Supreme Court clarified it had not directed states or union territories to compulsorily release prisoners from their prisons.
Justice BN Srikrishna, former Supreme Court judge said, “If this is what the high-powered committee has stated then it’s absurd. If prisoners have to follow the due process of law, then why was the high-powered committee made. How can the committee distinguish between prisoners booked for special Acts and others. It is like distinguishing between the rich and the poor prisoners. If this is how it is, the Supreme Court has done nothing to fight the pandemic.”