The High-Powered Committee of the Delhi High Court met on Tuesday to discuss affirmative and effective steps to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak inside jails and for ensuring social distancing by identifying and determining the class or categories of prisoners, who can again be released on interim bail or parole.
The Committee, under the chairpersonship of Justice Vipin Sanghi, was constituted for determining the class/category of prisoners, who can be released on interim bail/parole, depending not only upon the severity of the offence, but also upon the nature of the offence and/or upon any other relevant factor, and for such period, as it may deem appropriate.
Accordingly, this Committee in its meeting dated February 17, 2021, based on the improved situation of Covid-19 in Delhi NCR; and taking cognizance of order dated September 30, 2020 passed by the Government of India regarding Unlock-5 effective from October 15, 2020, and also considering the Office Order dated January 14, 2021 of High Court, whereby all the Courts, including the High Court of Delhi and Courts subordinate thereto have resumed functioning through physical mode/video conferencing mode, resolved not to recommend further extension of interim bail to the undertrial prisoners (UTPs).
As such, all 3499 UTPs enlarged on interim bail, who had not been admitted to regular bail, either by the court concerned, or the Superior Courts, were asked to surrender back to the Jail, including 1,184 convicts released on Emergency Parole.
At present, the entire country in general, and Delhi in particular, is engulfed by the second wave of Covid-19, which according to medical and expert opinion, is more virulent and fatal in comparison to last year’s strain.
In a matter of few weeks, this second wave has left everyone “gasping for air”. It has led everyone struggle to breathe or with asphyxia, which is the most terrifying human experience. Breathing fresh air, which one takes for granted and used to do more than a dozen times every minute, in the present circumstances has turned into an ordeal.
Right to Life under Article 21 is the most precious Fundamental Right of every citizen of India. It unconditionally embraces even an undertrial/convict walled off from the society, the Committee said.
It held that the situation, as observed by this Committee in its last meeting, has now taken a 360 degree turn and is becoming alarming with each day. Accordingly, there is an imminent and urgent need to take affirmative and effective steps to prevent the outbreak of Covid-19 inside jails and for ensuring social distancing inside prisons by identifying and determining the class/categories of prisoners, who can once again be released on interim bails/paroles.
Kanwal Jeet Arora, Member Secretary, DSLSA, apprised the Committee about PILs filed in the Delhi High Court, seeking directions to the Committee for laying down the criteria to release the UTPs on interim bail and also to decongest jails in view of the second Covid-19 wave.
The Committee was informed by the DG Prisons that out of total 249 inmates found to be Covid-19 positive, 63 have been isolated in jail itself, 67 have been lodged in Central Jail Hospital (Tihar), 37 in Central Jail Hospital (Mandoli), 16 in Burari Hospital, 14 in GTB hospital, five in LNJP Hospital, four in DDU Hospital, one each in AIIMS and Max Hospital; whereas 41 such inmates have been released.
DG Sandeep Goel informed the Committee that in terms of the resolution adopted vide meeting dated June 20, 2020 as well as in subsequent meetings, Jail Administration is taking extra precautions with respect to inmates who are more than 55 years of age, so that they are not immuno-compromised. The DG Prisons has further assured the Committee that they shall continue doing the needful.
He informed that in view of resolutions passed by this Committee in the last meeting, they are carrying out Rapid Tests for jail staff, paramilitary staff and others, as per ICMR guidelines. He further informed that thermal screening of jail staff is also being conducted, before letting them enter jail premises. He informed that jail staff are cautioned to wear mask and to maintain social distance, while interacting with each other, as well as with inmates.
The Committee suggested that as the new variant of Covid-19 is more virulent, therefore, the jail staff as well as inmates be directed and provided with double masking – one surgical mask and one cloth mask. The DG (Prisons) assured that he shall provide these masks to jail staff as well as jail inmates and shall ensure that inmates and jail staff use double masking at all times.
On the aspect of isolation cells and temporary jails, it was decided thus:
“In an eventuality of UTPs/Convicts surrendering in Delhi jails or sent after arrest, pursuant to any order passed by the Court of Law, the Chair suggested that all such UTPs/Convicts may be housed initially for a period of 14 days in the Temporary Jail before sending them in the concerned Jail. The DG Prisons assured the Chair to comply with this suggestion. It is made clear that fresh male inmates who are between 18 to 21 years of age and fresh women inmates shall continue to be kept in separate “Isolation Cells” at Jail No 5 and 6 respectively at Tihar and Jail No 16 Mandoli, in terms of the earlier resolution.”
The Committee Chairperson made enquiries regarding usage of “Oxygen Concentration Machines” in Jail Hospital as well as regarding “Rapid Antigen Test Facility” for the inmates. The DG Prisons has informed that they have procured four “Oxygen Concentration Machines,” whereafter the Delhi Health Department has also supplied them 15 “Oxygen Concentration Machines”.
He informed that jail staff was declared “Front Line Workers” and thus was directed to be vaccinated in the First Phase of Vaccine Drive against COVID-19. He further informed that more than 85 percent of jail staff has been vaccinated.
“Members of the Committee have deliberated upon this issue and have resolved that all the jail inmates as well as jail staff are required to be vaccinated at the earliest, so that the spread of COVID-19 inside the jail premises can be curtailed,” the Committee resolved.
The Committee said that all these factors cumulatively suggest that there is an emergent requirement of identifying class/category of prisoners who can be released on interim bail/emergency parole.
The Members of the Committee discussed and deliberated upon the proposed category of prisoners, who may be considered for grant of interim bail for 90 days in view of the circumstances in which we are in, preferably on ‘Personal Bond’:
(1) Inmates undergoing Civil Imprisonment
(2) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) who are facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 7 years or less wherein he/she is in custody for a period of 15 days or more
(3) Under trial prisoners (UTPs)/Remand Prisoners (with respect to whom, Charge sheets are yet to be filed), who are in custody for 15 days or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 7 years or less
(4) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), who are senior citizens more than 60 years of age and are in custody for three months or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less
(5) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), who are less than 60 years of age and are in custody for six months or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less; subject to the condition that he should not be involved in any other case which prescribes punishment of more than 7 years
(6) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), who are suffering from HIV, Cancer, Chronic Kidney Dysfunction(UTPs requiring Dialysis), Hepatitis B or C, Asthma, and TB and are in custody, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less and are not involved in multiple cases
(7) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) who are suffering from HIV, Cancer, Chronic Kidney Dysfunction (UTPs requiring Dialysis), Hepatitis B or C, Asthma, and TB and are in custody for a period of three months or more and facing trial in a case which prescribes punishment of 10 years upto life imprisonment and are not involved in multiple cases
(8) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial for offence under Section 304 IPC and are in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case
(9) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial in a case under Section 307 IPC and are in jail for more than six months; subject to the condition that he should not be involved in any other case which prescribes punishment of more than 7 years
(10) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) (who are related as spouse of the deceased) facing trial for a case under 304B IPC and are in jail for more than one year with no involvement in any other case
(11) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) (who are related as father-in-law, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters -in -law of the deceased) facing trial for offence under Section 304B IPC and are in jail for more than six years with no involvement in any other case
The Committee suggested that the Commissioner of Police may ensure compliance of Arnesh Kumar Jugdment’s guidelines and the DSLSA may be directed to conduct sensitization programs of Senior Police officers online.