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SC issues directions for release of prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19

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The Supreme Court on Monday while hearing the case of suo moto writ petition titled as “Contagion of COVID-19 in prisons” issued directions for release of prisoners so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

The case was heard by the bench comprising of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar wherein the Attorney General K.K. Venugopal apprised the bench that various measures have been taken for releasing the prisoners from jails across the country. He also told the court that most of the states have released prisoners in consonance with appropriate directions

Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid appearing for the one of the petitioner pleaded before the court that the provision of release of prisoners should be extended to detention centres as well. To this Mr. Venugopal replied the purpose of the lockdown would be defeated, if prisoners are released at this time. If the government releases prisoners and detainees without testing they could infect people.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appearing as amicus curie said that at Satna Jail in Madhya Pradesh there are some inmates who might be affected with corona virus. Prisoners are not to be released permanently. The order of the court must be followed in letter and spirit. State Governments are doing their duty properly, but the idea is containment of COVID-19.

CJI Bobde also referred to an incident wherein one of the released prisoners faced social boycotting out of fear in his locality on returning.

Earlier, the court passed an order thereby constituting High Power Committees and Under Trial Release Committees for every state and districts which were empowered by the Supreme Court to take call on release of prisoners from jail to decongest prisons so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the inmates.

It was observed by the Court that the State of Bihar has not found it appropriate to release the prisoners for complete absence of any patient suffering from corona virus within the prisons and also for the reason that the prisons are not overcrowded.

The Supreme Court clarified that it has not directed the States/ Union Territories to compulsorily release the prisoners from their respective prisons. The purpose of our aforesaid order was to ensure the States/Union Territories to assess the situation in their prisons having regard to the outbreak of the present pandemic in the country and release certain prisoners and for that purpose to determine the category of prisoners to be released.

The Supreme Court on Monday after hearing all concerned parties issued following directions:-

  • No prisoner shall be released if he/she has suffered from corona virus disease in communicable form hereafter. For this purpose, appropriate tests will be carried out.
  • If it is found that a prisoner who has been released is suffering from corona virus after the release, necessary steps will be taken by the concerned authority by placing him/her in appropriate quarantine facility.
  • Transportation shall be done in full compliance of the Rules and Norms of social distancing. For instance, no transportation shall be allowed in excess of half or one fourth capacity of the bus as may be found appropriate to ensure that the passengers who have been found to be free of corona virus disease are at a distance from each other.
  • The order dated 23.03.2020 shall be applicable to correctional homes, detention centres and protection homes.

India Legal Bureau

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