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The Calcutta High Court yesterday directed the constitution of a Committee to examine the number of prisoners in correctional homes and jails eligible for parole, bail etc. to reduce overcrowding in jails amidst the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The order was passed pursuant to an order passed by the Supreme Court requesting all states to consider releasing prisoners facing sentences of up to seven years in order to decongest prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accordingly, the High Court Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee has directed that the release of eligible prisoners be decided on a case-to-case basis by a Government constituted committee.
This was in view of the fact that the High court could not pass any blanket, general direction itself to apply to all undertrial prisoners or convicts.
Rather, the Court noted that "such matters have to be dealt with on case to case basis by the Government and the Court concerned with the assistance of the State Government and/or the State Legal Services Authority/District Legal Services Authority/Taluk Legal Service Committee, etc."
Further, the Court has now directed the constitution of a committee by the State Government, with the due involvement of Legal Services authorities.
Inter alia, the Court has directed that the Committee should comprise an officer not below the rank of Chief Secretary/Principal Secretary to the Government.
The Chairman of the West Bengal State Legal Services Committee is also to be a member. Further, it will be open to the Chairman of WBSLSA to nominate the Member Secretary or any other Officer of State Legal Services Authority to represent the Chairman in any meeting of the Committee.
The order also states that the Committee will consider all precautionary measures within the correctional homes and jails, apart from taking adequate steps to enable release of eligible convicts and under trial prisoners (particularly those who are in the zone of punishments which have been awarded seven years of imprisonment as the maximum).
The Court has clarified that it would be open to the Government to mould the request for relief of the prisoners in such manner as may be appropriate.
The Court added that the report regarding the action on the issue should be emailed by the Government to the Registrar General of the High Court Court by March 31.
[Read the Order]