New Delhi: A Muslim body has moved the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of fundamental rights of jail inmates saying it would be a “travesty of justice” and a “blot” on the criminal justice system if any innocent undertrial prisoner dies due to spread of COVID-19 in jails.
The Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has sought impleadment in the suo motu (on its own) matter taken by the apex court relating to de-congestion of jails to prevent over-crowding in view of Coronavirus outbreak.
It has referred to media reports which said that several prisoners in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail have tested positive for COVID-19.
The plea alleged that in Maharashtra, 11,000 prisoners have been identified by the high powered committee but only 2,520 have been released while in Madhya Pradesh, 6,033 prisoners have been released against the 12,000 identified by the panel. “It is therefore necessary to avoid any delay in releasing of the prisoners as a delayed response may not have the desired effect,” it said.
“While even convicted prisoners have the right to life and personal liberty to be protected by the state in the event of a pandemic, it would be a travesty of justice and a blot on our entire criminal justice system if an wrongly implicated, innocent undertrial prisoner dies due to the spread of COVID-19 in prison,” the plea said.
“The present application for impleadment is to seek enforcement of, inter alia, the fundamental right to life and personal liberties of prisoners under Article 21 of the Constitution who are currently languishing in over-crowded prisons across the country, where social distancing is impossible and are therefore, facing an acute risk of contracting the Coronavirus,” the plea said.
The plea, filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool, said the apex court had in its March 23 order directed the states and union territories (UTs) to constitute high powered committees which could decide which prisoners may be released on interim bail or parole during the pandemic.
It said though the high-powered committee of most states and UTs have already specified the criteria for release of prisoners, the jail inmates are not being released immediately.
It said that several countries have released prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the apex court should direct the Centre and the states to expedite the process of release.
The apex court, in its April 13 order passed in the matter, had made it clear that it has not directed all the states and UTs to compulsorily release prisoners from jails and its earlier directives were meant to prevent over-crowding of prisons in view of coronavirus outbreak.
The top court had said that its orders have to be followed in letter and spirit and it would be also applicable to correctional homes, detention centres and protection homes.
The apex court on April 7 had directed all states and UTs to ensure through Director Generals of Police (DGPs) that prisoners released from jails get safe transit, so that they can reach their homes amid the lockdown due to coronavirus.
It had on March 23 directed all states and UTs to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials for offences entailing up to seven-year jail term to decongest prisons in the wake of coronavirus.
The apex court on March 16 had taken suo motu cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country and said it was difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
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