Maha govt  to release half of its prisoners, as more than 180 COVID cases emerge in Arthur road

This decision was made by the high powered committee which was set up under the SC directive


The Maharashtra Prisons Department decided to release half of its prisoners, after 185 cases tested positive for COVID19 in Arthur road jail, Mumbai. In March, it had decided to release 11,000 prisoners and now this number has increased to 17,000.

The Supreme Court, right at the beginning of the national lockdown, in March, had ordered all states and Union Territories in India to set up high-level panels in order to consider releasing prisoners who have served a sentence of 7 years or more, on parole to decongest the already over crowded jails, as a preventive measure in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.

It also directed prisons in the country to make response plans for COVID-19 in consultation with medical experts. Among its other suggestions are creation of isolation wards, quarantine of new prisoners, preliminary examination of prisoners, availability of medical assistance, scanning of staff and other service providers at entry points, sanitisation and cleanliness of prison campus, wards, supply of masks, barring or limiting of personal visits for prisoners and suspension of group activities.

The Maharashtra government, right after this directive, had decided to release some 11,000 prisoners both undertrials and convicts incarcerated for offences with less than seven years of maximum sentence, on emergency parole. But this measure does not seem to have been as effective. Now that more than 180 cases of COVID19 have tested positive, the state if squandering to take some emergent measures and has now decided to increase the number of prisoners being temporarily released in the state from 11,000 to 17,000. This is nearly half the prisoner strength of 35,239 across jails in Maharashtra. It is pertinent to note that five of Maharashtra’s biggest prisons, namely, Arthur Road Jail, Byculla Jail, Thane Jail, Kalyan Jail and Yerawada Central Prison had stopped taking in new inmates, since April 9.

Since the decision to release 11,000 prisoners which was taken in March, 5,105 undertrial prisoners from 37 jails across the state were released till May 9, as reported by the Indian Express. The process of release of convicts was yet to begin, awaiting a statutory order from the state government inserting clauses about such release in the parole and furlough rulebook. Prison department officials said that the order, in the form of a notification, was issued late on Friday and the process of release of convicts on parole began on May 9.

The tally in Maharashtra’s prisons stands at 185 cases were in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai— which include 158 inmates and prison staff — and one case in Byculla Jail, which is also in Mumbai. Anil Deshmukh, the Home Minister of Maharashtra took to twitter to give an update:



He uploaded s statement on Twitter, the micro blogging site, in which he announced, “To avoid spreading of such infection in other jails, state government has decided to release 17,000 of the inmates from the (pre-lockdown) population 35,000. Of them, around 5,000 undertrials have already been released. We will now be releasing around 3,000 prisoners who have been sentenced to less than seven years of imprisonment. And 9,000 more inmates who have been undergoing sentence of more than seven years, will also be released. Thus of the 35,000 population, up to 17,000 will be releases temporarily.” He also added that this decision will not apply to convicts who have been incarcerated for heinous and serious crimes such as rape, financial fraud, scams, prisoners convicted under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act,  (MCOCA) or Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors Act (MPID).

Home Minister Anil Deshmukh told The Indian Express that the decision was taken based on the recommendations of the committee — chaired by Justice AA Sayed and comprising Additional chief secretary Sanjay Chahande and Director General of Prisons SN Pandey. The Times of India reported that a plea was made before the committee by Adv. SB Talekar to modify the category of prisoners who could be released to include even those prisoners incarcerated for serious crimes under MPID, MCOCA and UAPA. This contention was rejected by the committee saying, “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 Committee further said that the prisoners convicted under this Act cannot be treated as belonging to the same class of prisoners who are now being released on parole and said that it would consider their release on a case by case basis.



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