The country has reported more than 8,000 coronavirus cases so far. (Representational)
The Supreme Court on Monday made it clear that it has not directed all the states and union territories to "compulsorily" release prisoners from jails and its earlier orders were meant to prevent over-crowding of prisons in view of coronavirus outbreak.
The top court said that the purpose of its earlier orders was to ensure the states and UTs assess the situation in their prisons and release certain prisoners.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and justices L Nageswara Rao and M M Shantanagoudar said its orders have to be followed in letter and spirit and will be also applicable to correctional homes, detention centres and protection homes.
"We make it clear that we have 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.
"We make it clear that the order is intended to be implemented fully in letter and spirits," it said.
The bench issued the directions in the matter after taking up the matter suo motu (on its own).
The top court said that by its order of March 23, it had directed the states and UTs to constitute High Powered Committees which could decide which prisoners may be released on interim bail or parole during the pandemic.
"The purpose was to prevent the overcrowding of prisons so that in case of an outbreak of coronavirus in the prisons, the spread of the disease is manageable," the bench said, when it was pointed out that Bihar government was not releasing any prisoners as no case of patient of suffering from coronavirus was found in the prisons and also due to the fact that jails are not over crowded.
Dealing with a separate application on the issue of release of jail inmates and detainees in detention centres, the bench directed that no prisoner shall be released if he or she has suffered from coronavirus disease in communicable form.
It said that for this purpose, appropriate tests shall be carried out to check whether the prisoner to be released is suffering from coronavirus.
"If it is found that a prisoner who has been released is suffering from coronavirus after the release, necessary steps will be taken by the authority concerned by placing him/her in appropriate quarantine facility," the bench said.
It directed that transportation of inmates 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 coronavirus disease are at a distance from each other," the bench said.
On April 7, the top court had directed all states and UTs to ensure through Director Generals of Police (DGPs) that prisoners released from jails get safe transit, so that they can reach their homes amid the lockdown due to coronavirus.
The top court said the prisoners should be given the option of staying in temporary shelter homes during the period of lockdown.
It had on March 23 directed all states and UTs to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to 7-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of coronavirus.
It said overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern, particularly in the present context of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The top court had said it would be open for the committee to determine the category of prisoners to be released depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate.
The top court added that looking into the possible threat of transmission and fatal consequences, it is necessary that prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among inmates including undertrials.
On March 16, the top court had taken suo motu cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country and said it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Coronavirus has spread to 200 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 67,69,14,137 and 68,83,085 have died; 62,55,69,487 are active cases and 4,44,61,565 have recovered as on July 17, 2023 at 10:18 am.
In India, there are 4,49,94,921 confirmed cases including 5,31,915 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,441 and 4,44,61,565 have recovered as on July 14, 2023 at 8:00 am.
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