The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday formed a three-member panel to examine the situation in all correctional homes of West Bengal and prepare a report on the number of inmates who could be granted bail or parole to avoid crowding in jails, in view of the Covid-19 outbreak.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee formed the committee with Justice Dipankar Datta, the chairman of State Legal Services Authority, as its head, and sought a report on the correctional homes by March 31.
The Director General (prisons) and principal secretary, home department, are the two other members of the high court-constituted panel.
The committee has been asked to propose criteria for granting bail to undertrial inmates and suggest whether prisoners in jail for over 10 years be granted parole under the present circumstances.
The high court took up the issue suo moto in light of a Supreme Court direction on Monday, asking all state governments and Union territories to set up high-level committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on parole for four to six weeks.
The apex court said prisoners convicted of or charged with offences having prison terms up to seven years can be given parole to decongest the jails.
It had also said that several prison staff enter the prisons regularly, and so do visitors and lawyers and therefore, there is a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the prison inmates.
Taking up a separate PIL which sought steps by the state and the Centre to prevent the spread of the pandemic, the division bench on Tuesday did not pass any order after stating that it was satisfied with the actions taken by both the governments in this regard.
The court administration has, meanwhile, communicated to its judges and all lower courts in the state a letter by the West Bengal government that sought consideration of bail prayers of undertrial inmates so as to reduce overcrowding in correctional homes, a top HC official said.
"On a direction by Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan, we have forwarded the communication to the judges of the high court and all subordinate courts in the state," Calcutta High Court Registrar General Rai Chattopadhyay said.
In the letter, State Advocate General Kishore Dutta requested Chief Justice Radhakrishnan to "issue appropriate administrative directions to all the judges in West Bengal, including the judges of the high court, to consider liberally granting bail to undertrial inmates with a view to reduce the correctional home population considering the present novel coronavirus scare".
Most lawyers in the state have stopped appearing for hearings following a resolution passed by the West Bengal Bar Council for non-participation in judicial proceedings at the Calcutta High Court and other courts in the state till March 31 in view of the prevailing situation.
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