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Coronavirus: Decongesting the prisons for preventing the transmission of the Covid-19, a precautionary measure.

The Supreme Court in the light of the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), felt the urgent need to pass a slew of directives for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of the Pandemic with regard to prisons and remand homes.

Looking into the possible threat of transmission and fatal consequences, the Supreme Court by an order dated 23rd March 2020,has emphasized that the issue of over-crowding in the prison cells was a matter of grave concern.

Focusing on Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Apex Court declared that it had become pivotal to confirm that there was no overcrowding in the prisons.

The court in its order directed that each State /Union Territory would constitute a High Powered Committee comprising of (i) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary (Home/Prison) (iii) Director General of Prisons, in order to ascertain what class of prisoners could be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as it was considered appropriate.The Court concluded that the State/Union Territory could consider the release of prisoners who are convicted or are under trial for having committed 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.

The Supreme Court while passing the above order clarified that it was completely up to the discretion of the High Powered Committee to verify the category of prisoners who should be released and the same may  be done taking a few crucial aspects in mind which included the nature of the offence for which the prisoner was sentenced, the number of years for which he or she had been sentenced or with the severity of the offence with which he or she is charged and is facing trial along with any other factors which the Committee may consider relevant. It also ordered the Undertrial Review Committee contemplated by the Apex Court in the case of Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, (2016) 3 SCC 700, to organize a meeting every week and take such decision in consultation with the concerned authority as per the said judgment.

COVID-19 has posed a serious threat to everyone’s health today, and the Supreme Court being the highest judicial authority in the country felt the necessity of issuing certain directions with the only motto of preventing the transmission of this disease and taking effective measures to curb the upheaval which has already escalated to a severe level.

Social distancing, however abhorrent it may feel, but today the present situation demands avoiding large congregations in order to battle the most intimidating global calamity which has grasped our nation and the only remedy to prevent this is to discourage any form of physical contact. Having regard to the magnitude of the health crisis which the world is facing today, it would be advisable for all the citizens to comply with the directions of the concerned Governments and the judicial system who are taking efforts every single day to avert any further annihilation of lives.

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