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Release prisoners on parole, SC tells states, UTs

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday directed all 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 7-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of Coronavirus pandemic.

The top court said overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern, particularly in the present context of Coronavirus.

In regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it has become imperative to ensure that the spread of Coronavirus within the prisons is controlled, the court said.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices L N Rao and Surya Kant said the state or UT could consider the release of prisoners who have been convicted or are undertrial for offences for which prescribed punishment is up to 7 years or less, with or without fine and the prisoner has been convicted for a lesser number of years than the

maximum.

"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," it said.

The top court said it would be open for the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate.

It also directed that the Undertrial Review Committee set up by the court in another matter, shall meet every week and take such decision in consultation with the concerned authority.

It said that the High Powered Committee shall take into account the directions contained its 2014 verdict of Arnesh Kumar versus State of Bihar.

It asked the states and UTs who have not filed their responses to do so within three weeks from today and listed the matter after three

weeks.

"Taking into consideration the possibility of outside transmission, we direct that the physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners before the Courts must be stopped forthwith and recourse to video conferencing must be taken for all purposes," the bench said, adding that the transfer of prisoners from one prison to another for routine reasons must not be resorted except for decongestion to ensure social distancing and medical assistance to an ill prisoner.

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