One hundred and sixty high-risk inmates currently lodged in Mandoli Jail will be shifted to different jails in Tihar, a high powered committee constituted to decongest jails has said. It has also decreed that while transporting them, the jail administration ensure that buses transporting not be in excess of half or ¼ capacity so that prisoners maintain a considerable distance from each other.
The decisions were announced after 16 inmates and one jail staff of Rohini jail were found COVID positive. The direction came from a High Powered Committee headed by Justice Hima Kohli, Judge of the Delhi High Court who conducted a meeting through video conferencing on May 18th to discuss various aspects of spread and containment of COVID-19 in the prisons in Delhi. The meeting was also attended by the Executive Chairperson of Delhi State Legal Services Authority and by other Officers and members of the High Powered Committee.
The Supreme Court on March 23rd had taken suo motu cognizance of the need to deal with the health crisis arising out of Corona Virus (COVID-19) with regard to the Prisons and Remand Homes, and had directed every State and Union Territory to constitute a High Powered Committee, to consider the release of Prisoners who have been convicted or are undertrial for offences for which the prescribed punishment is up to 07 years or less. The Committee was directed to comprise of comprising of Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, the Principal Secretary (Home/Prisons) and Director General of Prisons.
The Committee discussed the following issues in the meeting:
- Follow up of resolution adopted regarding prevention, screening, identification and treatment of prisoners and jail staff.
- Steps taken towards screening of jail staff, para-military and medical staff.
- Taking stock of the effect of earlier criterion adopted for decongestion of jail.
- Feedback regarding extension of emergency parole granted to convicts by Government of NCT of Delhi.
- Determining fresh category of prisoners who can be released on interim bail.
- Consideration of representation received seeking relief for Under-trial prisoners held for non-heinous crimes, including fraud, cheating, and other economic offences.
The Chairperson has asked the DG of Prisons about the steps that were taken by the Jail Administration to tackle the situation of the 16 inmates and one jail staff of Rohini jail being found COVID positive. It was informed that the jail administration has been following and complying with the guidelines, instructions and resolutions passed by this Committee vide its earlier meetings, as a result of which they were in a position to prevent the eruption and spread of COVID-19 inside the jail premises till 13. When one inmate was found positive, the Jail administration took requisite steps and conducted test of 19 inmates who were sharing the barrack with the person besides 5 Jail Staff members, and out of them, 15 inmates and 1 Jail Staff were found Corona Positive.
He also informed that isolation wards have been created in each Jail for such cases and Special Task Force (STF) has been formed for “Contact Tracing” of suspected COVID cases in all the jails including Rohini Jail. In the present case, all the other 15 inmates have been separately quarantined and are being provided with requisite medication. Contact Tracing of these 15 inmates with other inmates of Rohini Jail is under process and they will get the necessary COVID-19 test conducted, if necessary, for other inmates as well, who may have come in contact with these COVID19 positive cases, in the recent past. The principle of social distancing is being followed scrupulously and common areas which are frequently used by the inmates like Bathing area, Kitchen Area and Jail Telephone Area are being regularly cleaned and sanitized using appropriate disinfectant. Public Address System have been installed in Jails to further inform the inmates about the necessary precautions that are required to be taken.
Other measures that are being taken include pre-screening of all inmates at CPRO before lodging them in jail, Procurement and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Kit, Mask, Gloves, Alcohol-based hand rubs and Soaps, and Psychological screening of newly admitted inmates to properly manage their mental health issues.
The Members of the Committee deliberated upon the possible steps which can be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jail premises:
- New entrants in terms of the resolution adopted in the earlier meeting should be kept in Isolation wards and cells so as to prevent their intermingling with other inmates who are already inside the jail.
- Necessary precautions have to be taken by Jail Staff, Medical Staff, Maintenance Staff and other persons entering the premises for delivery of essentials so that they may not come in direct contact with the inmates inside the Jail premises.
- Individual cells in any prison need to be converted into Isolation Cells, for keeping the new entrants atleast for an initial period of 14 days so that they may not intermingle with other inmates.
- 160 inmates have been directed to be shifted to different Jails in Tihar, and while transporting them, the Jail administration need to ensure that no transportation in excess of half or ¼ capacity of the bus shall be carried out, to ensure that prisoners maintain a considerable distance from each other.
- The fresh male inmates who are between 18 to 21 years of age and fresh women inmates will continue to be kept in separate Isolation Wards at Tihar, in terms of the earlier resolution and these new inmates will be permitted to intermingle with other inmates only after keeping them in Isolation Wards for 14 days and before lodging them, they should be thermally screened and medically examined.
The Chairperson has directed Special Secretary (Home), Govt. of NCT of Delhi to modify the notification made by Govt. of NCT of Delhi within two days and extend the “Emergency Parole” granted to the convicts for 8 weeks from the date their earlier parole is expiring.
The Members of the Committee have decided the category of prisoners to be considered for grant of interim bail for 45 days on Personal Bond , through which approximately 1500 – 1700 UTPs would be benefited, further easing out the Jail Population
- Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial for a case under Section 302 IPC and are in jail for more than two years with no involvement in any other case
- Under trial prisoners facing trial for offence under Section 304 IPC and are in jail for more than one year with no involvement in any other case
- Under trial prisoners facing trial in a case under Section 307 or 308 IPC and are in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case)
- Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial/remand prisoners in Theft cases and are in jail for more than 15 days
- Male Under trial prisoners (above 65 years of age) facing trial in a case except the ones excluded hereunder and are in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case
- Female Under trial prisoners (above 60 years of age) facing trial in a case except the ones excluded hereunder and are in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case
This or the Committee’s previous orders will not effect the rights of under trial prisoners who are not covered under these categories to seek release on interim bail by invoking the jurisdiction of concerned courts for grant of regular or interim bail
The Committee noted that a representation dated May 16th was made by two advocates addressed to the Chairperson of this Committee seeking relief for under trial prisoners held for all non-heinous crimes including fraud, cheating and other economic offences in light of COVID-19 global pandemic, alleging discrimination against them. According to the committee, the Supreme Court had directed that the High Powered Committee will have an absolute discretion to determine which class or category of the prisoners can be released on interim bail or parole depending not only upon the severity of the offence, but also the nature of offence or any other relevant factor. Therefore, the Committee rejected the representation and stated that no prisoner in whatsoever category or class he falls and whatever nature of offence he is facing trial, can seek or claim to be released from prison as a matter of right.
-India Legal Bureau