To avoid the transfer of the COVID 19 virus, the Supreme Court directed that the under-trial prisoners should not be produced in the court amidst the COVID outbreak rather the video conferencing technique should be adopted.
The Supreme Court realized and took into account the gravity of the situation and hence prohibited the physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners and a recourse to video conferencing was propagated.
The Bench comprising of Justices L Nageshwara Rao and Surya Kant further stated : the routine transfer of prisoners which was previously conducted must be strictly avoided unless the transfer is absolutely necessary for reasons like decongestion to ensure social distancing and for the purpose of medical assistance in case of a ill prisoner. Also, there should not be any delay in shifting sick person to a Nodal Medical Institution in case of any possibility of infection is seen.
The court stated that the issue of overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern particularly in the present context of the pandemic of Corona Virus, and said, “that the situation demands strict vigilance by the prisons and they must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials”.
“Considering the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it is important to ensure that the spread of the Corona Virus within the prisons is controlled”.
Based on this, the Court directed the Stated/UTs to constitute a High Level Committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released or parole or an interim bail for such period as may be though appropriate.
The Committee should comprise (i) Chairman of the State Legal Services Committee, (ii) the Principal Secretary by whatever designation is known as, (iii) Director General of Prison(s).
The bench further stated that it is the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released as mentioned above , depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity and gravity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate.