The present petition was placed in front of the High Court of Delhi to seek directions for taking immediate steps to temporarily release all the under trials and convicts, who are accused of offences where the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed under the Indian Penal Code and other statutes is up to five years and fine, that is, for non-heinous crimes.
The petition only deals with the under trial prisoners and convicts who are lodged in Tihar, Mandawali and Rohini Jails in Delhi. Furthermore, the petition prayed for segregation of inmates who are ailing and provide them with proper medical facilities. The respondents in the present petition are Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Chief Secretary of GNCTD, Delhi Police and the respondent and Lieutenant Governor of GNCTD.
Submissions by the Petitioner
It was submitted by the counsel for the petitioner that considering the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in India, the Government of India and State Governments across the country have directed the people to maintain social distancing. Further, eighty districts in the country, including Delhi, have been directed to carry out lockdown.
Considering the same, it is necessary to bring down the occupancy rate of the Jails in Delhi at the earliest to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails. The counsel brought into light the fact that the holding capacity of prisoners in the Jails in Delhi is 10,000, whereas 17,000 prisoners have occupied the Jail at one time. Hence, it is necessary to release such prisoners who can be let out on furlough, parole and emergency parole.
The Honourable High Court took into consideration the Order of the Supreme Court dated 16.03.2020, wherein it is observed that immediate steps have to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus in prisons across India. For the said purpose, the Supreme Court has also called upon all the Chief Secretaries/Administrators, Home Secretaries, Director Generals of all Prisons and Departments of Social Welfare of all the States and Union Territories to discuss the steps which are being taken to deal with the crisis arising out of the COVID-19. The High Court of Delhi stated that since the Supreme Court is dealing with the same issue which has been raised in the High Court, it is not appropriate for this court to entertain this petition.
The Court also emphasised upon the submission of the learned ASC, GNCTD who stated that “the Home Department of the Government of NCT of Delhi is proposing to issue a Notification in the exercise of the powers conferred to it under Section 71 of the Delhi Prisons Act, to add Rules 1219A and 1243A in the Delhi Prison Rules 2018, after Rules 1219 and 1243, respectively and introduce “60 days parole” in one spell instead of two spells of 30 days each in a year and further, introduce a temporary facility of “special furlough” to such category of prisoners and for such number of days as may be specified in the order, in situations like the threat of an epidemic or natural disaster or for any such situation or circumstances, which warrants immediate easing of the inmate population in the interest of the inmates and the society at large.”
The court also took into consideration the submission of the respondent regarding the proposal to amend Rule 1202 of the Delhi Prison Rules 2018 to introduce the expression “emergency parole”, which would give authorisation to the Government to grant parole up to 8 weeks in one spell, in addition to the regular parole. The emergency parole would be granted in emergency situations like the threat of epidemic, natural disaster or any other situations or circumstances. Further, with respect to under trial prisoners, who are booked in only 1 case in which the maximum sentence is 7 years or less and who have completed minimum 3 months in jail, it is proposed that they shall be granted interim bail for 45 days upon a request made by them, preferably on a personal bond. However, the concerned authorities have not formalised any mechanism to carry it out.
The Court directed that the undertrial prisoners shall be at liberty to apply for interim bails on account of the current situation and the concerned courts shall also consider the same while making decisions. The court further directed the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Police to take immediate steps to implement the proposals outlined in the decision, preferably within two days.
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