The Supreme Court. (HT PHOTO)
The Supreme Court. (HT PHOTO)

Supreme Court ends bail of over 2,000 prisoners given on Covid-19 ground

  • On October 29 last year, the top court had stayed a direction passed on October 20 by the Delhi High Court directing 2,318 undertrial prisoners to surrender in a phased manner.
By Abraham Thomas
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 11:51 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Monday set a 15-day deadline for 2,318 undertrial prisoners in Delhi to surrender after they were released on bail in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhatt said, “Now the situation is improving. We will order the prisoners out on interim bail to surrender in 15 days.”

On October 29 last year, the top court had stayed a direction passed on October 20 by the Delhi High Court directing 2,318 undertrial prisoners to surrender in a phased manner.

This decision was challenged by NGO National Forum on Prison Reforms which pointed to the grim reality of overcrowded prisons and sought stay of the HC order in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The petition pointed out that implementing the HC order will result in widespread confusion as prisoners will be forced to approach different trial courts. It also claimed that the surrender of close to 5000 prisoners will lead to overcrowding, heightening chances of a Covid-19 spread inside jail.

From time-to-time, the top court kept extending its order of stay and lifted it only on Monday.

The court kept the matter pending in order to monitor implementation of its order. The court also wished to know about the status on overcrowding of prisons across the country and sought a report on this aspect from Amicus curiae Gaurav Agarwal.

The High Court had directed 2318 undertrials involved in heinous offences to surrender in a phased manner latest by November 13. Soon after the lockdown came into effect in March last year, the Delhi HC took suo motu notice of the pending interim bail pleas of prisoners before various trial courts and High Court and granted blanket extension till May 15. By subsequent orders in May, June, and July, the interim bails got extended. In addition to this, some 350 odd prisoners were also granted interim bail by the Delhi High Court as well.

The HC in its October 20 order had said, “Now the situation has changed and all courts at High Courts and district level are functioning through physical or videoconferencing mode.”

The HC also noted that inside the jails, there was no scare of Covid-19 outbreak as out of 16,000 prisoners only three were infected and were being kept under isolation.

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