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A lawyer, Advocate SB Talekar has written to the Additional Chief Secretary (Appeals and Security), Mumbai urging that steps be taken to decongest prisons in the State to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
The letter notes the Supreme Court had recently directed all States to consider the temporary release of those prisoners who have been convicted or are under trial for offences for which the prescribed punishment is upto 7 years.
To this end, the top Court had also called for the constitution of a High Powered Committee to examine which prisoners can be released.
However, in spite of these directions, the letter notes that the State of Maharashtra has neither constituted a High Powered Committee nor has taken any steps to ensure the decongestion of the prisons.
With 36,713 prisoners in the jails of Maharashtra, as against a sanctioned strength of 24,032, Talekar states that the prisons in the State are much more crowded than its actual capacity.
Therefore, it has been asserted that the State Government would have to take measures in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in jails before the matter gets out of hand.
Among the measures proposed by the Talekar to decongest prisons, it has been emphasised that an immediate meeting of the Undertrial Review Committee must be called in every district to take necessary steps for the release of undertrial prisoners who have undergone their sentence.
Further, the letter also urges that the following measures be adopted:
Prison authorities should invoke Section 436A,CrPC to release those prisoners who have already undergone half of total imprisonment on their personal bond with or without surety.
A report should be called from the Probation Officer regarding the persons who are eligible to be released under Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
No new prisoners are inducted and further mixed up with the existing prisoners.
Transfer prisoners from the overcrowded prisons to lesser crowded prisons.
Constitute the High Powered Committee to examine which prisoners are eligible for release, in line with the Supreme Court's recent order.
[Read letter here]