Human Rights for Prisoner during Covid 19 written by Surya Sunilkumar student of Ramaiah institute of legal studies
National Alliance for People’s Movement & Ors. Vs State of Maharashtra & Ors. (2020)
Covid 19 pandemic has affected everyone in the world. As there is no cure or vaccines so far and the only way of surviving this pandemic is social distancing. On 22nd September 2020, the Supreme Court of India took a decision regarding the scope of granting interim bails/ parole/ furlough due to the unforeseen circumstances of a pandemic. A Special leave petition was filed by the petitioner stating that there was unreasonable discrimination by the High Powered Committee in deciding the categories.
Facts of the case
A PIL was filed seeking that the decision was taken by the High Powered Committee regarding the extent of clarification that the categorization of offenses into 3 categories of (i) under-trial prisoners/convicted persons who are facing trial or convicted to the maximum punishment of 7 years or less, (ii) the convicted persons whose sentence is above 7 years and (iii) the under-trial prisoners or convicted persons who are booked for serious economic offenses/bank scams and offenses under Special Acts such as MCOC, PMLA, MPID, NDPS, UAPA, etc. determined by the HPC for temporary release is discriminatory in nature and against Art.14 of the Constitution.
The Bench made observations on proceedings of the aforementioned case:
• The decision made by the High Court regarding granting of interim bail to the offenders based on the categories and classes specified by the Committee was taken requiring decongestion of prisons to curb the spread of the virus. As the actual intake of prisoners was more than the limit of intake, this step was considered to be a preventive step with respect to the health of the prisoners.
• It has passed an order previously with regards to the suggestion of immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance of all jails and juvenile remand homes.
• It also stated that, under the case laws of The State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar, Arun Kumar & Ors vs. Union of India & Ors. and K.R. Lakshman & Ors. vs. Karnataka electricity Board collectively states that equality before the law or the equal protection of laws does not mean identity or abstract symmetry of treatment and that reasonable classification is permitted. Thus the contention made by the petitioner that the categorization made is discriminatory, was rejected.
• It was held that the provision of giving interim bail is not a statutory right but a human right considering the pandemic situation. Adding to this the court ordered that bails be provided only after considering the factual position of the total intake of the prisoners, as it is not mandatory if the prison is accommodating an exact number of prisoners and is maintaining social distancing.
• It stated that if any prisoner is facing individual discrimination then they can seek the help of the competent court to examine any grievance.
Thus the Appeal made was dismissed by the SC stating that the category made by the High Powered Committee was not discriminatory.
The apex court took this decision considering the pandemic. But there are its pros and cons.
Some of the pros of this order are
• It considers the Human rights of the prisoner which is important to maintain the rights of the citizens conferred in the Constitution of India.
• Granting interim bails to the less heinous offenders will help lessen the burden of the prisons as well as it will maintain social distancing. This decision ensures the health and safety of the prisoners as well as the people working on the premises of the prison.
• It also states that reasonable discrimination and categorization is an exception under Art 14 of the Indian Constitution.
Some of the cons of this order are:
• Firstly one of the major issues that still exist that how will the authorities keep a watch on the prisoners who are given bail. Even though temporary, there is a possibility that the prisoners might try to escape from the rest of the jail period.
• Secondly prisoners who are convicted persons whose sentence is above 7 years, if granted with bail would be harmful to the society as the nature and the severity of the offense by these prisoners under the category will be heinous. Thus considering this category is against the security and the welfare of the general public.
The order has withheld the decisions taken by the High Powered Committee. It stated that the categorization cannot be regarded as unreasonable or arbitrary and the methodology to grant interim bail to the prisoner is in the interest of welfare.