A high-powered committee, headed by a Delhi High Court judge, has decided that 250 prisoners from Rohini and Tihar jails will be temporarily shifted to the Mandoli prison to decongest the jails in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has infected 16,116 people and claimed 519 lives so far India.
The committee, headed by Justice Hima Kohli, resolved in its April 18 meeting that the transportation of 200 prisoners from Rohini Jail and 50 from Tihar Jail shall be done in full compliance of the social-distancing norms.
The jail administration shall ensure that no transportation in excess of half or one-fourth capacity of the bus is carried out to ensure that the prisoners maintain a considerable distance with each other during these transits, the committee, which was constituted in March on the orders of the Supreme Court, said.
“The committee, in view of the suggestions made by the Director General (Prisons), has resolved that 200 prisoners from Rohini Jail and 50 prisoners from Tihar Jail can be shifted to Mandoli Jail on a temporary basis, that is, till the time the present circumstances prevailing in the country persist, so as to enable the jail administration to implement social distancing amongst the prisoners,” the minutes of the meeting recorded.
It deliberated and resolved on various means of achieving social distancing, including to quarantine fresh inmates, taking stock of the effect of the criteria adopted earlier, determining a fresh category of prisoners who can be released on interim bail.
The panel was also informed by authorities that in view of its March 28 and April 7 directions, 1,109 orders were issued to release convicts on parole and 953 have been released.
The authorities said though orders were issued to release 1,109 convicts on “emergency parole”, some of them were not released as they were unwilling and some were residents of Punjab, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The decision of the committee was taken at a meeting held via video-conferencing with officials of the DG (Prisons), Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) and home department of the Delhi government.
The meeting was held pursuant to the March 23 direction of the apex court to every state to set up a high-powered committee to take measures to reduce the population of inmates in the over-crowded jails of the country by determining the category of prisoners to be released on parole and interim bail.
The committee was informed that 25 convicts were released after granting remission of sentence and 36 more shall be released up to June 30.
The DG (Prisons) informed the committee chairperson that there are 11 convicts who have become eligible for release after grant of remission but could not be released for non-payment of fine.
The panel observed, “Being conscious of the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the country, forcing the central government to declare a “national lockdown” of 40 days, these convicts or their family members may have become incapacitated to deposit the fine so imposed on them, along with the substantial sentence.”
On the suggestion of the DG (Prisons), the committee resolved that these 11 convicts who have completed their substantive sentence can be released on furnishing an “undertaking” to the satisfaction of the jail superintendent to the effect that they shall deposit the fine amount within 15 days of lifting of the lockdown, failing which they shall surrender to serve the remainder of their sentences.
The committee also expressed satisfaction over the steps and precautions taken by the jail authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the jail premises.
The steps taken by the authorities include frequent cleaning and sanitisation of the bathing and kitchen areas, maintaining social distance and putting new prisoners under quarantine.
The panel noted that on the basis of the criteria adopted earlier, as on date, about 2,700 inmates or convicts or undertrial prisoners have been released on parole or interim bail.
According to the DG (Prisons), after adopting the criteria set out earlier for release prisoners, the jail population has come down from 17,552 as on March 25 to 14,799 as on April 18.
The DG (Prisons) had earlier said that in the 16 jails in Delhi, which have a total capacity of 10,026 prisoners, there are 17,440 inmates, of whom 14,355 are undertrials.
The chairperson of the panel also appreciated and lauded the efforts put in towards the implementation of the resolutions adopted at earlier meetings held by the Delhi government, jail administration and DSLSA, which led to the desired results of decongestion of Delhi prisons.