Medha Patkar approaches the SC for the interim release of inmates in Maharashtra under the Special Acts

    A petition challenging the Bombay High Court’s August 5 judgement has been submitted in the Supreme Court by Medha Patkar and her organization, National Alliance of People’s Movements, together with social activist Meera Sadanand Kamath. This plearequests for the interim release of prisoners charged under Special Acts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after the Bombay High Court refused to approve this supplication and upheld the Centre’s classification of prisoners who were to be released on emergency parole to establish proper social distancing in the prisons during the pandemic.

    Owing to the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the jails, Activist Medha Patkar seeks the temporary release of prisoners from Maharashtra jails. Advocates Vipin Nair and S.B Talekar directed the SPL contending the High Courts decision to ratify the Maharashtra State High Powered Committee’s recommendations to not release those prisoners who were on emergency parole and convicted for offences punishable with less than 7 years under Special Acts such as NDPS Act, UAPA, MCOCA etc.

    The petition states that “The HPC excluded the prisoners who were accused of offences punishable under the Special Acts for the purpose of availing interim bail on the ground that such Acts required observation of a separate procedure or imposition of additional conditions for the purpose of grant of bail. However, most of the special Acts did not provide for any special procedure or additional conditions for grant of bail…… Once the HPC had classified the prisoners after applying the relevant parameters, it was not required to apply those and other relevant parameters once again by the lower courts, thereby making the entire exercise of classification of prisoners for the purpose of decongestion in the prisons, a futile attempt and illusory.”

    The prisoners who were accused of offences punishable under the Special Acts were left out and in that sense, undervalued by the Committee from acquiring interim bail owing to the fact that when it comes to such Acts, there requires some observation of a separate procedure or imposition of additional conditions for the purpose of granting bail. Hence the plea maintains that by classifying the prisoners which were done by the HPC  and the additional conditions/ restrictions for granting the temporary release of prisoners imposed by the HPC, the High Court fallaciously upheld the committee’s decision.

    The plea says that the Bombay High Court, “has erroneously upheld not only the classification of the prisoners done by the HPC but even the additional conditions/restrictions on grant of temporary release of prisoners imposed by HPC holding that the prisoners had no vested right to be released either on emergency parole or interim bail; and that the classification done by the High Powered Committee did not violate any of the fundamental rights of the prisoners.”

    As a consequence of the additional conditions imposed by the High Powered Committee, only 10,467 prisoners out of 28,642 are released till date. Further, the plea states that earlier, the pertinent rules allowed for emergency parole if there is some serious illness, death of the nearest relative, or in case of a natural calamity such as house collapse, floods, fire, earthquake. But now, after a Supreme Court order, there was an amendment administered on May 8 to provide for emergency parole on the ground of the Notification issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 based on the decision of the HPC.

    The prayer of the petitioners is that the apex court should reconsider the temporary release on interim bail of 17, 642 undertrial prisoners lodged in jails of Maharashtra who have their final hearing pending. Further, the petition appeals that the Court should reconsider the temporary release on emergency parole of 11,000 convicted prisoners who also have the final hearing in the matter pending. There is also a request extended to the Court to direct the State government to conduct swab testing of all the prisoners and prison staff in those prisons in the State of Maharashtra where COVID-19 has been detected.