Observing that the situation at present is more dangerous than it was a year ago, the High Powered Committee, constituted on orders of the Supreme Court to decongest the jails in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has recommended the release of different categories of undertrial prisoners for 90 days.
Approximately 4000 undertrial prisoners are likely to be benefited because of the recommendation. However, the Committee has recommended against the release of those facing trial in riot cases and cases under the “Anti-National Activities and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act”.
“In a matter of few weeks, this second wave has left everyone “gasping for air”. It has led everyone to struggle to breathe or with asphyxia, which is the most terrifying human experience. The right to Life under Article 21 is the most precious Fundamental Right of every citizen of India. It unconditionally embraces even an undertrial /convict walled off from the society,” the committee has said.
The type of inmates whose release has been recommended includes the inmates undergoing civil Imprisonment, undertrials or remand prisoners who are facing trial in a case that prescribes a maximum sentence of seven years or less wherein the prisoner is in custody for a period of 15 days or more; who are senior citizens more than 60 years of age and are in custody for three months or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less; and undertrial prisoners who are less than 60 years of age and are in custody for six months or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less.
The committee has also recommended the release of inmates who are suffering from various serious ailments and are facing trial in cases that prescribe a maximum sentence of 10 years or less and are not involved in multiple cases. It has also said that undertrial prisoners with such ailments can be released if they have been in custody for a period of three months or more and are facing trial in a case that prescribes punishment of 10 years up to life imprisonment and are not involved in multiple cases.
The others who have also been recommended for interim bail include the undertrial prisoners facing trial for offence under Section 304 IPC and have been in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case; the inmates facing trial in a case under Section 307 IPC and are in jail for more than six months – subject to the condition that they should not be involved in any other case which prescribes punishment of more than 7 years; inmates, who were spouses and are facing trial for a case under Section 304B (dowry death) and are in jail for more than one year with no involvement in any other case, and the inmates – related as father-in-law, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law of the deceased – facing trial in the dowry death cases and in jail for more than six years and with no involvement in any other case.
The committee has said the inmates who are undergoing trial for intermediary or large quantity recovery under NDPS Act, undertrial prisoners facing charges under Section 4 and 6 of POCSO Act, under trial prisoners who are facing trial for offences under section 376, 376A, 376AB, 376B, 376C, 376D, 376DA, 376DB, and 376E and Acid Attack; foreign nationals; under trial prisoners who are facing trial under Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) / PMLA, MCOCA and cases investigated by CBI/ED/NIA/Special Cell of Delhi Police, Crime Branch, SFIO, Terror related Cases, Riot cases and cases under Anti-National Activities and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act should not be released.
It has also recommended against the release of those inmates who were given the benefit last year but committed fresh crimes while on interim bail.
The Committee has however recommended remission of sentence in those cases where the convicts are about to complete their jail term. It has also recommended emergency parole to the various categories of convicts, who were released last year also, for a period of eight weeks.
The Committee is chaired by Justice Vipin Sanghi and Delhi’s Principal Secretary (Home) B. S. Bhalla, DG (Prisons) Sandeep Goyal and Kanwal Jeet Arora, Member Secretary, Delhi State Legal Services Authority are its members. When the situation had improved in February, the Committee had recommended the surrender of all the inmates released on interim bail or parole on account of the pandemic.