Relaxing its earlier conditions in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the release of those detainees in Assam who were declared foreigners and have been lodged in detention centres for two years or more.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices LN Rao and M Shantanagoudar, referring to the top court's May 10, 2019 order, also lowered the personal bond amount from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5,000 while reducing the minimum period of detention from three years to two years.
"Having regard to the present circumstances prevailing in the country and having regard to the fact that we have already permitted the release of prisoners and people under detention in general, and such detenues who have completed three years upon their declaration as foreigners, we see no reason why the period should not be reduced from three years to two years, that is to say, the prisoners or detenues who have been under detention for two years shall be entitled to be released...," the bench said.
It said the prisoners and detenues would be released on the same terms and conditions as those laid down in the May 10, 2019 order, except that they shall not be required to furnish a bond of Rs 1 lakh; instead they shall be required to furnish a bond of Rs 5,000 only with two sureties of the like sum.
The top court had imposed certain conditions while directing the release of such detainees including that they should have spent more than three years in detention, and were to be released upon furnishing a bond of Rs 1 lakh along with two sureties.
The order on Monday came on intervention application filed by Justice for Liberty Initiative, a Assam based Public Charitable Trust, seeking the release of detainees lodged in six Assam detention centres in view of coronavirus pandemic.
During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, objected to their release apprehending that they would infect people in villages or where ever they go after their release.
Advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the petitioner, informed the court that the apprehension of the Attorney General was based on an unfounded premise that every such person was already infected by the virus.
The bench observed that the very purpose of framing of guidelines and the release of persons was to prevent these prisons and detention centres from becoming a hotspot of infection.
Alam also contended that the two-year period be dispensed with or further reduced on account of unprecedented pandemic situation.
The bench observed however that at this stage it would release only those who have spent two years or more in the detention.
Referring to the apex court orders passed on March 16, the plea filed through advocate Talha Abdul Rahman said the court has already taken a bold and decisive step towards ensuring that prisons do not become breeding grounds of COVID-19 and has ordered a high powered committee to come up with modalities of releasing prisoners on parole.
"That in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, there are about 802 detenues in detention centres in Assam who are now more vulnerable in the already overcrowded detention centres with deplorable living conditions, and with no parole being made available to them," the plea said.