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Coronavirus: Plea in SC for release and monetary assistance to prisoners

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

A plea was Wednesday filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to all the states to release under trial prisoners, following a recent apex court order in this regard amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to provide them suitable monetary assistance for sustenance during the crisis.

The top court had on March 23 directed all the states and Union Territories to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to seven-year jail terms in order to decongest prisons to check spread of the contagion.

The fresh plea, filed by the Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), has urged the court to call for status reports from the authorities regarding implementation of the directions issued on Monday.

Referring to the Delhi government's announcement of providing financial assistance of Rs 5,000 to each construction worker in the national capital amidst the lockdown imposed due to coronavirus, the plea has said such monetary relief be also extended to prisoners who would be released from jails on the basis of the top court's directive.

"It is submitted that along with necessary curfew pass, such monetary relief may also be provided to undertrial prisoners who may be released from jails in terms of this Court's order dated March 23 for reaching their respective destinations," the CASC, which has sought to implead in the pending matter, said in its plea.

The plea said though the entire country has been put under a lockdown, it does not in any way reduce the chances of spread of COVID-19 in prisons due to overcrowding there and that is why the apex court has taken cognisance on its own on the issue.

It said "inmates have been released on personal bonds and house arrest from many jails in the United States due to coronavirus fears. Similarly, Iran has released about 85,000 prisoners due to coronavirus."

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde had on March 23 said overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern, particularly in the present context of coronavirus.

The top court had said states or UTs could consider the release of prisoners, who have been convicted for up to seven years jail term, or are undertrial for offences entailing a maximum punishment of up to seven years or less.

"We direct that each State/Union Territory shall constitute a High Powered Committee comprising of (i) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) by whatever designation is known as, (ii) Director General of Prison(s), to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate," the bench had said.

On March 16, the top court had taken suo motu (on its own) 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.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, March 25 2020. 20:16 IST