A high-powered committee appointed for emergency release or bail of prison inmates has decided to grant temporary parole to 17,000 prisoners from jails across Maharashtra as the Maharashtra government struggles to rein in the rampaging run of the coronavirus outbreak in the state. The number is reported to be nearly half of the state prison population. The decision to release the prisoners comes in the wake of reports of an increasing number of transmission of infection among jail inmates in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail. As of today, 185 people, including 26 jail staff, have been tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the Arthur Road jail.
The committee, however, rejected the proposal made by lawyer SB Talekar to alter the category of the inmates benefitting from the decision. Talekar contended that the reprieve be extended to even offenders and convicts under special laws such as MPID, UAPA, MMCOCA, PMLA etc. on the emergency grounds during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the High Court rejected the argument saying, “In any event, the prisoner charged/convicted under Special Acts, including MPID, cannot claim to be released from the reason,” adding that the objective was to release some prisoners, not all of them.
Maharashtra Home Minister announces the decision on social media
The committee was presided over by high court Justice Amjad Sayed and included Sanjay Chahande, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) and SN Pandey, Director General, Prisons in Maharashtra. State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh took to Twitter to announce the decision taken by the Maharashtra government to grant temporary parole to 17,000 of the state’s 35,000 prisoners lodged at different jails across Maharashtra. He added that out of the 17,000 prisoners, 5,000 are under-trials, 3,000 of them serving up to 7 years of prison following conviction, and the remaining 9,000 are facing jail time for more than 7 years.
“Temporary parole will be granted to 17,000 prisoners across the state so that social distancing norms can be better followed and prisons around the state do not emerge as coronavirus hotspots,” Deshmukh said while defending government’s decision.
It is also notable to mention that most jails in the state, including the Arthur Road jail, are facing the issue of overcrowding, which dramatically increases the chances of the spread of the coronavirus. It is also worth noting that Maharashtra is in the midst of an acute coronavirus crisis as the number of COVID-19 caseloads in the state is surging at an alarming rate. Maharashtra currently tops the list of states with the maximum number of coronavirus cases in India. It has so far reported 23,400 cases and a staggering 868 fatalities. A big chunk of the state’s COVID-19 cases are reported from the capital city Mumbai.