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About 50% of prisoners to be released to decongest Maharashtra Jails amid COVID-19: State High Powered Committee

Bar & Bench

The High Powered Committee constituted for the State of Maharashtra has intimated that it has decided to release about 50% of the prisoners lodged in State jails to decongest these facilities as a measure to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

This is being done pursuant to the Supreme Court's March 23 directions to consider the release of prisoners facing up to 7 years imprisonment to decongest prisons while the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Whereas the Committee had earlier indicated that it had recommended the release of about 11,000 prisoners, on Monday a press release was issued informing that,

"It may be noted that by a separate decision of this Committee taken today, more prisoners than what was decided in the earlier decision of the HPC dated 25-03-2020 are to be released, which would substantially decongest the prisons and about 50% of prisoners out of the prison population of 35,239 are now expected to be released. "
High Powered Committee (Maharashtra)

The development comes close in the heels of a plea being moved in the Supreme Court alleging contempt of court on the part of the Maharashtra Government for failing to release any prisoners as per the top Court's March 23 order to take steps to decongest prisons to curb the COVID-19 spread.

In this regard, four prisoners had submitted that the state of Maharashtra has not released a single prisoner till date, although the High Powered Committee had recommended the release of 11,000 prisoners from State Jails on March 25 itself.

Another concern raised related the the High Powered Committee's March 25 decision not to consider for interim release prisoners charged or convicted under Special Acts other than the Indian Penal Code such as MCOC, PMLA, MPID, NDPS, UAPA etc.

A plea challenging the blanket exclusion of such prisoners from being considered for interim release amid COVID-19 was moved before the Bombay High Court, which directed the High Powered Committee to take a call on the issue.

The High Powered Committee has, however, now rejected the representation made on the issue by Advocate Satish Talekar, asserting that it has the absolute discretion to decide on which classes of prisoners should be released.

In this regard, reference has also been made to observations made by the Supreme Court on the discretion conferred on the Committee to decide on which prisoners may be released.

"... it would be apparent that the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its order dated 23-03-2020 has left it to the absolute discretion of this Committee to determine which class/category of the prisoners can be released on interim bail or parole depending not only upon the severity of the offence, but also the nature of offence or any other relevant factor. Moreover, in its subsequent order dated 13-04-2020, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has clarified that it has not directed the States/Union Territories to compulsorily release the prisoners from their respective prisons."

High Powered Committee (Maharashtra)

As such, the High Powered Committee comprising of Justice (retd.) AA Sayed, Additional Chief Secretary from the State Home Department, Sanjay Chahande and SN Pandey, Director General Prisons of Maharashtra has said that it had decided to exclude prisoners arrested for Special Act offences after considering relevant factors.

It has been added that, "In any event, the prisoners charged/convicted under the Special Acts including MPID Act cannot claim to be released from prison as of right."

Further, the Committee has also reasoned, "It is required to be noted that the offences under MPID Act are against large number of victims who are mostly poor depositors, and whose interests are required to be safeguarded and recoveries made from properties. The MPID Act is enacted to protect the interest of the depositors and the prisoners charged/convicted for offenses under the MPID Act cannot treated as belonging to the same class of prisoners who are to be released on interim bail/parole under the decision of this Committee dated 25-03-2020."

Read the Press Release:

Decision of HPC purusant to order dated 23 April 2020.pdf
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