Interim bail granted amid COVID-19: SC asks 2,318 undertrial prisoners to surrender within 15 days
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday directed 2,318 undertrial prisoners, who were granted interim bail by the trial courts here amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to surrender in jail within 15 days.
The apex court said that 356 prisoners, who were earlier granted interim bail by the Delhi High Court in view of the pandemic, would also surrender in jail within 15 days from today.
A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat passed the directions while hearing the pleas, including an appeal filed by ‘National Forum on Prison Reforms’ (NFPR) against the October 20 last year direction of the Delhi High Court which had said that its blanket order extending all interim stays and bails granted prior to and during the COVID-19 lockdown would not remain in effect after October 31, 2020.
Advocate Gaurav Agrawal, who is assisting the top court as an amicus curiae in a separate matter related to inhuman conditions in prisons, told the bench that he would submit a report on the issue of overcrowding in jails.
One of the lawyers appearing in the matter said that around 17,000 inmates are lodged in jail in Delhi while the capacity is of 10,000 only.
The bench has listed the matter for further hearing in April.
The apex court had on October 29, 2020 stayed the high court direction asking all undertrial prisoners, whose bail period was extended due to the pandemic, to surrender in a phased manner between November 2 and 13 last year.
The apex court had also issued notices to the Delhi government and others seeking their replies on the appeal filed by NFPR.
The NFPR has claimed that the high court direction was completely against the spirit of March 23, 2020 order passed by it, brushing aside, without even perusing, the eight recommendations/orders of its own High-Powered Committee (HPC) appointed by the top court.
The plea has alleged that high court order was passed by grossly misunderstanding the data presented to it and wrongly concluding that only three coronavirus cases existed among the 16,000 inmates.
The high court in its order had said that all undertrials whose bail period was extended have to surrender in a phased manner between November 2 and November 13 last year.
The court had said the order would also be applicable to 356 prisoners who were granted interim bail by the high court and they would have to surrender before the jail authorities on November 13 last year.
The high court on August 24, 2020 had extended till October 31 last year all the interim orders which were to expire on or after August 31 in cases that are before it as also the district courts in view of the pandemic.
It had said that bail granted by the trial courts to 2,318 undertrial prisoners involved in heinous crimes, and which was being extended from time to time on the basis of the high court’s blanket extension order, would come to an end on October 31, 2020 and all of them have to surrender in a phased manner between November 2 and November 13.
It had said the interim bail and interim stay extension order of March 25 last year, which was extended from time to time, “was necessitated because functioning of the courts was curtailed due to complete lockdown declared on March 25”, but “now the situation has changed and all the courts at high court and district court level are functioning through physical mode/video conference mode”.
Another reason given by the high court for modifying its March 25, 2020 order was that there is no spread of COVID-19 in the jails and out of about 16,000 prisoners only three were infected and they were segregated and admitted in hospital.
The high court had said that its order would also be applicable to those 356 prisoners who were granted bail.
On March 25 last year, the high court had extended till May 15 the interim orders in all matters pending before it and subordinate courts in view of the lockdown.
Thereafter, the relief was extended from time-to-time and it was last extended till October 31 last year.