The plea states that out of 28,642 prisoners to be released, only 10,467 prisoners are released till date, due to the additional conditions imposed by the Maharashtra High Powered Committee.

Debayan Roy

A plea has been moved in the Supreme Court for the interim release of prisoners charged under Special Acts amid the COVID-19 pandemic after the Bombay High Court declined to entertain this prayer.

Medha Patkar and her organization, National Alliance of People’s Movements, along with social activist Meera Sadanand Kamath have moved the Supreme Court challenging the August 5 judgment of the Bombay High Court whereby the High Court had upheld the State’s classification of prisoners who were to be released on emergency parole in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

The appeal filed by Advocate on Record Vipin Nair and drawn by Satish B Talekar recounts that in pursuance of the March 23 order of the top Court, where all States were directed to constitute a High Powered Committee for the release of prisoners on interim bail or emergency parole after the rapid rise of COVID-19, the Maharashtra State High Powered Committee (HPC) was constituted

The Committee had directed that all persons who are accused or convicted of offences punishable with imprisonment of 7 years or less shall be released on interim bail or emergency parole as the case may be.

However, the High-Powered Committee held that these directions would not apply to the prisoners who are accused of offences under the Special Acts or of serious economic offences.

This decision of the HPC to exclude prisoners charged under Special Acts from being considered for such interim release forms the basis of challenge in the plea by Patkar.

The High-Powered Committee had also directed the jail authorities to favourably consider the release of the convicts who are undergoing imprisonment for offences punishable with less than 7 years imprisonment, on emergency parole.

The High-Powered Committee, however, excluded all such convicted prisoners who are undergoing punishment under the special Acts from the scope of its directions.

The Committee excluded prisoners who were accused of offences punishable under the Special Acts from availing interim bail on the ground that such Acts required observation of a separate procedure or imposition of additional conditions for the purpose of grant of bail.

These decisions of the HPC were challenged before the Bombay High Court, which rejected the petition.

The High Court ahd opined that the prisoners had no vested right to be released either on emergency parole or interim bail, and that the classification done by the High Powered Committee did not violate any of the fundamental rights of the prisoners.

The plea before the Supreme Court states that the High Court erroneously upheld not only the classification of the prisoners done by the HPC but even the additional conditions/ restrictions for granting the temporary release of prisoners imposed by the HPC.

The plea states that out of 28,642 prisoners to be released, only 10,467 prisoners are released till date, due to the additional conditions imposed by the High Powered Committee.

The plea further avers that the applicable rules did earlier provide for emergency parole on the ground of serious illness, death of the nearest relative, or in case of a natural calamity such as house collapse, floods, fire, earthquake.

However after a Supreme Court order, an amendment was carried out on May 8 to provide for emergency parole on the ground of the Notification issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 on the basis of the decision of the HPC.

However, even then, the benefit of emergency parole was denied to the prisoners convicted for serious economic offences, bank scams or offences under the special Acts like MCOC, PMLA, MPID, NDPS, UAPA etc.

Emergency parole was denied on the ground that these special Acts provide for additional restrictions on grant of bail in addition to those under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The petitioners have urged the top Court to reconsider the case of 17, 642 undertrial prisoners lodged in jails of Maharashtra for temporary release on interim bail, pending the final hearing in the matter.

Further, Patkar prays that the Court reconsiders the release of 11,000 convicted prisoners for temporary release on emergency parole pending the final hearing of the matter.

The petitioners have also urged the Court to direct the State government to conduct swab testing of all the prisoners and prison staff in those prisons in the State of Maharashtra where COVID-19 has been detected

courtesy Bar and Bench