New Delhi, May 7 (ILNS): With the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave coming in its devastating form, the existing High-Powered Committee of the Delhi High Court met again on Tuesday, to discuss affirmative action and effective steps to prevent a major outbreak of the disease inside jails.
As the first wave waned, the committee, constituted under the chairmanship of Justice Vipin Sanghi, had decided on February 17 that no further extension of parole to jail inmates would be granted. Now that the disease is back with renewed vigour, the committee once again wants to ensure social distancing inside prisons by identifying and determining the class or categories of prisoners, who can once again be released on interim bails or paroles.
The purpose of committee was to determine the class/category of prisoners, who can be released on interim bail/parole, depending not only upon the severity of the offence, but also upon the nature of the offence and/or upon any other relevant factor, and for such period, as it may deem appropriate.
In its February 17 meeting, the committee had taken into cognisance two developments. The first was the Government of India’s Unlock-5 order of September 30, 2020 (effective from October 15, 2020). The second was the Delhi High Court’s Office Order of January 14, 2021, which said that the court and all subordinate courts were to resume functioning through physical mode/video-conferencing mode. With these two developments, the committee decided to not recommend any more extension of interim bail to under-trial prisoners.
With that decision of the committee, an order was sent out that all 3,499 under-trial prisoners on interim bail – who had not got regular bail – were to surrender back to the jails. This included 1,184 convicts released on emergency parole.
The committee studied the new situation on Tuesday and said that now the country is in the grip of a second wave, which, according to experts, is way more virulent and more dangerous than last year’s strain.
“In a matter of a few weeks, this second wave has left everyone ‘gasping for air’. It has left everyone struggling to breathe or with asphyxia, which is the most terrifying human experience. Breathing fresh air, which one takes for granted and used to do more than a dozen times every minute, in the present circumstances has turned into an ordeal. Right to Life under Article 21 is the most precious Fundamental Right of every citizen of India. It unconditionally embraces even an under-trial/convict walled off from the society,” the committee said.
The committee held the situation has taken a 180 degree turn from the situation in its last meeting and is becoming alarming with each day. Kanwal Jeet Arora, Member Secretary, DSLSA, apprised the Committee about the PILs filed in the Delhi High Court seeking directions to the Committee for laying down the criteria to release the UTPs on interim bail and also to decongest jails in view of second Covid wave.
The Committee was informed by the DG Prisons that of the 249 inmates found to be Covid-19 positive, 63 have been isolated in jail itself, 67 have been lodged in Central Jail Hospital (Tihar), 37 in Central Jail Hospital (Mandoli), 16 in Burari Hospital, 14 in GTB hospital, 5 in LNJP Hospital, 4 in DDU Hospital, 1 each in AIIMS and MAX Hospital and 41 such inmates have been released.
Sandeep Goel, DG, also informed the Committee that in terms of the resolution adopted at the June 20, 2020 meeting, as well as in subsequent meetings, Jail Administration is taking extra precautions with respect to inmates who are more than 55 years of age, so that they are not ‘immuno -compromised’. DG Prisons further assured the Committee that they shall continue doing the needful.
The DG informed that in view of resolutions passed by this Committee in the last meeting, they are carrying out ‘Rapid Tests’ of jail staff, para military staff and others, as per ICMR guidelines. He further informed that ‘thermal screening’ of the jail staff is also being conducted before letting them enter the jail premises. He informed that jail staff are cautioned to wear mask and to maintain social distance, while interacting with each other as well as with inmates.
The Committee suggested that as the new variant of COVID-19 is more virulent, therefore, the jail staff as well as inmates be directed and provided with double masking i.e. one surgical mask and one cloth mask. DG (Prisons) assured the committee of this.
On the aspect of isolation cells and temporary jails, it was decided thus:
“In an eventuality of UTPs/Convicts surrendering in Delhi jails or sent after arrest, pursuant to any order passed by the Court of Law, the Chair suggested that all such UTPs/Convicts may be housed initially for a period of 14 days in the Temporary Jail before sending them in the concerned Jail. DG Prisons assured the Chair to comply with this suggestion. It is made clear that fresh male inmates who are between 18 to 21 years of age and fresh women inmates shall continue to be kept in separate “Isolation Cells” at Jail No 5 and 6, respectively at Tihar and Jail No 16 Mandoli, in terms of the earlier resolution.”
The committee Chairperson made enquiries regarding usage of “Oxygen Concentration Machines” in Jail Hospital as well as regarding “Rapid Antigen Test Facility” for the inmates. The DG Prisons informed that they have procured four Oxygen Concentration Machines. The Delhi Health Department has also supplied them 15 Oxygen Concentration Machines.
The DG informed that jail staff were declared Frontline Workers and thus, were directed to be vaccinated in the first phase of Vaccine Drive against COVID-19. He further informed that more than 85 percent of the jail staff has been vaccinated.
“Members of the Committee have deliberated upon this issue and have resolved that all the jail inmates as well as jail staff are required to be vaccinated at the earliest, so that the spread of COVID-19 inside the jail premises can be curtailed,” the Committee resolved.
It said that all these factors cumulatively suggest that there is an emergent requirement of identifying class/category of prisoners, who can be released on interim bail/emergency parole.
The Members of the Committee discussed and deliberated upon the proposed category of prisoners, who may be considered for grant of interim bail for 90 days in view of the “circumstances in which we are in,” preferably on ‘Personal Bond’:
(1) Inmates undergoing Civil Imprisonment
(2) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) who are facing trial in a case, which prescribes a maximum sentence of seven years or less, wherein he/she is in custody for a period of 15 days or more
(3) Under trial prisoners (UTPs)/Remand Prisoners (with respect to whom, Charge sheets are yet to be filed), who are in custody for 15 days or more, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 7 years or less
(4) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), 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
(5) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), 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; subject to the condition that he should not be involved in any other case which prescribes punishment of more than 7 years
(6) Under trial prisoners (UTPs), who are suffering from HIV, Cancer, Chronic Kidney Dysfunction(UTPs requiring Dialysis), Hepatitis B or C, Asthma, and TB and are in custody, facing trial in a case which prescribes a maximum sentence of 10 years or less and are not involved in multiple cases
(7) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) who are suffering from HIV, Cancer, Chronic Kidney Dysfunction (UTPs requiring Dialysis), Hepatitis B or C, Asthma, and TB and are in custody for a period of three months or more and facing trial in a case which prescribes punishment of 10 years upto life imprisonment and are not involved in multiple cases
(8) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial for offence under Section 304 IPC and are in jail for more than six months with no involvement in any other case
(9) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) facing trial in a case under Section 307 IPC and are in jail for more than six months; subject to the condition that he should not be involved in any other case which prescribes punishment of more than 7 years
(10) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) (who are related as spouse of the deceased) facing trial for a case under 304B IPC and are in jail for more than one year with no involvement in any other case
(11) Under trial prisoners (UTPs) (who are related as father-in-law, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters -in -law of the deceased) facing trial for offence under Section 304B IPC and are in jail for more than six years with no involvement in any other case
The Committee suggested that the Commissioner of Police may ensure compliance of Arnesh Kumar Jugdment’s guidelines and the DSLSA may be directed to conduct sensitization programs of Senior Police officers online. ILNS\KR\SJ\RJ