Supreme Court Takes Suo Motu Cognizance Of COVID-19 In Prisons

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Facts

Overcrowding in prisons has always been an issue in India. The Apex Court of India has always provided fundamental rights to prisoners. Moreover, the fundamental rights remain with the person even in prisons.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is at 117.6%. In states such as Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, the occupancy rate is as high as 176.5% and 157.3% in the order. In the current situation, it is important to safeguard the Right to Life of prisoners. Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to live with dignity is for everyone.

The Apex Court, in this light, issued directions for the release of prisoners to prevent COVID-19.

Contentions 

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said that safety measures are being followed. Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid appeared on behalf of the petitioner. He pleaded to the Court for extending the provision of release to detention centres, as well.

In this regard, the Attorney General, Mr. K.K. Venugopal disagreed. This is for the reason that prisoners without testing may infect others. As a result, the whole purpose of lockdown will go in vain.

Court’s Observation

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India considered the guidance issued by the WHO. After consideration, the Court issued a fair number of directions for the State Governments for the release. It includes setting up of a High-Powered Committee by the State Governments that will decide the category of prisoners who are going to get parole or on interim bail. It’s advised to release under trial prisoners and the convicts whose punishment is up to 7 years or less. The Supreme Court also made it clear that releasing prisoners is not compulsory. Hence, the State/Union Territories can decide whether to release their prisoners or not.

Held

The bench comprised of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar. The State/UT must not release prisoners who have suffered from the coronavirus. If a released prisoner is suffering from coronavirus, then they must be in quarantine. Also, transportation must be done in full compliance with the rules and norms of social distancing.

The order dated 23.03.2020 will be applicable to correctional homes, detention centres, and protection homes. Further, every released prisoner must notify the change of their address to the Police Station the same day. Additionally, the Court ordered the creation of isolation wards. Also, there should be a provision of quarantine for new prisoners, scanning of people at entry and exit points of the prisons, and the provision of masks and sanitizers inside the premises of jails.


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