Bengaluru , April 2

Committee’s norms to decongest jails during COVID-19

April 2, 2020, Bengaluru

Select prisoners to be released on temporary bail for two months; allowed to speak to family over phone.

A high-powered committee, headed by the Executive Chairperson of the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA), has recommended release of undertrial prisoners facing charges of minor offences for two months on temporary bail for decongesting prisons in view of COVID-19 outbreak.

The meeting was chaired by Justice Aravind Kumar of the High Court of Karnataka, who is also the Executive Chairperson of the KSLSA, on March 30 for taking steps as per the guidelines issued by the apex court to decongest crowded prisons in view of COVID-19.

The committee recommended that temporary/interim bail can be given for two months or till such time the State government withdraws the notification issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, whichever is earlier.

Eligibility
Undertrial prisonerswho have as been granted bail but not released as he/she is unable to furnish surety and those facing trial with an imprisonment up to seven years or less are among those to be considered for release.

Those jailed for failure to pay maintenance amount as per orders of the court in matrimonial cases, and persons undergoing civil imprisonments in connection with disobeying the orders of civil courts will also be considered for release, the committee has said.

Those released on temporary bail must report to the jurisdictional police station once in 30 days and the jurisdictional court can impose additional conductions. The District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) will identify the prisoners eligible for release.

However, relief of temporary bail will not be available for those facing charges for which prescribed punishment is more than seven years, and those charged under the laws related to terrorism, money laundering, offences against women and children, financial frauds, etc.

Frustrated prisoners
The committee has recommended allowing prisoners to use landline telephone to speak to their family members to overcome frustration among prisoners on account of closure of visits to jail by family members owing to COVID-19 restrictions.

As Alok Mohan DGP (Prisons and Correctional Services) pointed out to the committee that there is a threat of riot among prisoners owing to stopping family visits, non-hearing of regular bail application because of closure of courts, and low physical activities owing to social distancing within prison, the committee asked member-secretaries of the DLSAs to visit prisons to assuage the pent-up frustration of prisoners.

The State government has told the apex court that it has allowed the prison authorities to use video calling or telephone call facilities to enable the prisoners to interact with their family members.