- Apprentice Lawyer
Harsh realities not considered: Kerala High Court hears plea challenging GO for return of prisoners released on parole amid COVID-19
"It's simple mathematics", the petitioner's counsel argued, while raising concern over possible overcrowding in jails amid the pandemic if prisoners were compelled to return.
The Kerala High Court has reserved for orders a batch of petitions filed by on-parole prisoners challenging the Kerala government's order directing the return to prison of on-parole prisoners released amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Saidalavi @Bava v. State of Kerala and connected matters)
The counsel for the petitioners pointed out before a Bench of Justice VG Arun that despite the State's submission that a High Powered Committee had decided that prisoners on parole and interim bail would have to return immediately, the minutes of the meeting/report had not been presented in Court nor to the petitioners' counsel.
This showed that the Committee had something to hide. There is a violation of the principles of natural justice, Senior Advocate P Vijayabhanu and Advocate R Anil submitted in Court.
Responding to these claims, Senior Government Pleader Suman Chakravarthy, for the Director-General of Prosecutions, stated that he had already filed a counter-affidavit and that he did not feel it necessary to produce the meeting minutes in Court since it was 'internal matter'.
"Your Lordship may take note of this, he says he did not think it feel it necessary to produce it! This is a violation of natural justice!", Senior Advocate Vijayabhanu emphatically stated.
Submitting that the minutes were in his possession, the Government Pleader read it out in Court. The Committee had taken into account the improvement in the situation prevailing on account of the pandemic, and steps in place to curb the spread of the virus. As such, it directed that the prisoners return, the Court was told. It was also stated that a few prisoners had voluntarily surrendered and that others had committed crimes while on parole.
As per the minutes read in Court, the Committee recorded that returning prisoners would be taken to COVID-19 care centers for quarantine before being admitted to prison. There would be special measures for vulnerable inmates and inmates over the age of 65, it was stated.
Kerala High Court seeks State response on preparedness to receive prisoners returning from parole amid COVID-19
Rubbishing these claims, the petitioners' counsel argued that the Committee's decision was based on extraneous and erroneous material that had not been produced in Court.
The Supreme Court had directed the constitution of High Powered Committees to check overcrowding in prisons, it was submitted. However, from the Committee's decision it was unclear how overcrowding would be prevented in the COVID centers and finally, in the prisons itself, the counsel argued.
How an order to return to prison could prevent overcrowding ought to have been recorded in the minutes, they further insisted. Even today the health minister has cautioned people to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19, senior counsel Vijayabhanu averred.
Adding to this, he said:
"The High Powered Committee's decision has nothing to do with the harsh realities of life!... Things are not improving, things are worsening!"
When Justice Arun questioned the counsel on the propriety of his interference with the Committee's Order, senior advocate Vijayabhanu and advocate Anil asserted that it was impossible to prevent overcrowding in prison with the existing measures in place.
"It's simple mathematics", Advocate Anil stated, referring to the fact that inmates would be taken the COVID-care centres whose capacities had not been placed on record.
"I'll have assume that the High Powered Committee are better mathematicians than I am", Justice Arun quipped.
Advocate Renjith Marar, appearing for another petitioner, averred that the fact that the minutes had not been produced in court, coupled with the supposed non-consideration of relevant material would allow the Court to exercise its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution.
After hearing these submissions, Justice Arun proceeded to reserve the matter for orders.
High Powered Committee to direct return of on-parole prisoners released from jail amid COVID-19 without delay: State tells Kerala High Court
On March 23, the top court had asked all States to consider releasing prisoners facing sentences of up to seven years in order to decongest prisons to minimise the risk of further spreading COVID-19.