The Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the National Alliance for People’s Movements, challenging the decision of the high power committee (HPC) to refuse temporary bail, furlough or parole leave in view of Covid-19 pandemic, to prisoners booked or convicted under special Acts and for economic offences.
The petitioner body, an alliance of progressive organisations and movements across India working for human rights and civil liberties, had moved the HC, challenging certain clauses in the May 11, 2020 order of the high power committee.
This included the clause by which accused persons booked under special Acts and economic offences, we’re excluded for grant of interim bail or parole. The petitioner body also challenged the clarification issued by the HPC on May 18, that its categorisation of convicts for temporary release shall not be construed as a direction for their mandatory release, and that the case of every prisoner be considered on its own merits.
Arguing on behalf of the petitioner body, advocate SB Talekar had mainly submitted that the HPC exceeded its jurisdiction and arbitrarily classifieds prisoners for availing the benefits of temporary bail, furlough, or parole leaves.
HC however, rejected the argument. The bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Madhav Jamdar said a perusal of the order of the Supreme Court (SC) under which the HPC was constituted showed that complete discretion was given to the HPC to determine the category of prisoners who should be released to decongest prisons. It said the SC had directed that the prisoners can be categorised depending upon the nature of offence, the duration of the sentence, or the severity of the offence, and any such relevant factors which the HPC may consider appropriate.
HC added that on April 13, the SC clarified that there was no direction for compulsory release of prisoners, and the purpose of the directions was that the states assess the situation in their prisons regarding the outbreak, and decongest the prisons to prevent the spread of the contagion in jails.
HC also took into consideration that by July 24, 10,338 prisoners had already been released either on emergency bail or parole and presently 26,279 prisoners are housed in jails across the state, having total capacity to house 23,217 prisoners. Besides, the state government has opened temporary prisons at 36 locations and around 2,597 prisoners are lodged there.
“Thus, it is clear that the respondents [state authorities] have already taken steps to reduce overcrowding in prisons,” said the bench while dismissing the PIL.
As regards the petitioner body’s prayer for direction to release prisoners serving life terms without insisting that they should have been released in the past at least twice, either on furlough or parole, and reported back to the jail in time, the bench said another bench of HC has already found that literal interpretation of the condition imposed by HPC will deprive the prisoners of the benefit if they have not availed furlough or parole twice in the past, and issued necessary clarification to prevent the same.