Prisoners released amid COVID-19 shouldn’t be asked to surrender until further orders: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered that all prisoners, released by the High-Powered Committee (HPC) of various state governments following its order in May last year, shouldn’t be asked to surrender until further orders.

Against the backdrop of an unprecedented Covid-19 crisis prevailing in the country, the top court had passed a slew of directions to decongest prisons and ordered forthwith release of all those prisoners who were granted bail or parole last year due to the pandemic.

On Friday, a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana also directed all states to submit a report before it by next Friday detailing the implementation and criteria adopted by the HPCs to release prisoners on emergency parole.

The bench also comprising Justices Nageswara Rao and A.S. Bopanna, observed that there is no uniform criteria adopted across the states. It noted that states have to explain, if they have considered factors like age, and comorbidities, while granting parole.

Amicus curiae in the matter, senior advocate Dushyant Dave submitted that suo motu cognizance was taken by the court on March 16 last year. He added that the court had directed that all prisoners or undertrials in cases punishable with imprisonment of 7 years or less be released forthwith to prevent overcrowding in jails. He added that it was noted there were 4 lakh prison inmates and jails are overcrowded, therefore decongestion was needed to protect the right to health of the accused amid the pandemic.

Dave added there was no information available on how the top court’s order was implemented by different states

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted: “Government does not have any objection if the earlier orders are extended.”

The bench noted that states should also explain if prisoners whose appeals are pending in higher courts were also considered for release by HPCs.

“We think it fit to direct Secretary of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and states to submit a report stating norms followed in releasing prisoners. Issues of why appeals by prisoners seeking release was not entertained to be clarified,” the bench said in its order.

The NALSA Secretary was asked to submit this report by next Friday, and the matter will be next heard on August 3.