NEW DELHI, April 13 (IANS): Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the release of detainees declared foreigners and lodged in detention centres in Assam for two years. A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and M.M. Shantanagoudar, citing the apex court's May 10, 2019 order, reduced the personal bond from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5,000 and reduced the minimum period under detention from three years to two years.
"The prisoners or detenues who have been under detention for two years shall be entitled to be released on the same terms and condition as those laid down... except that they shall not be required to furnish a bond in the sum of Rs 1 lakh. Instead they shall be required to furnish a bond in the sum of Rs 5, 000 with two sureties of the like sum of Indian citizens."
The apex court order came on the intervention application filed by Justice for Liberty Initiative, a public charitable trust based in Assam, which sought release of detainees lodged in six Assam detention centres citing the outbreak of coronavirus. In May 2019, the apex court had said detainees who have spent more than three years in detention centres may be released upon furnishing a bond of Rs 1 lakh along with two sureties.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, vehemently argued that the release and transportation of the prisoners would itself result in transmission of coronavirus from prisons or detention centres to locations where the released prisoners have to reach.
Advocate Shoeb Alam, representing an applicant, claimed these are only apprehensions, and contended the two-year period be dispensed with or further reduced due to this viral infection outbreak.
Another advocate appearing in the matter cited the March 16 order of the apex court where it directed the authorities concerned to take steps to prevent jails from becoming breeding grounds for coronavirus infection. The court had asked the high powered committee to come with a framework to release prisoners on parole.
At this, the court observed that it had not directed the states/Union Territories to compulsorily release the prisoners from their respective prisons. The purpose of the order was to ensure the states/Union Territories to assess the situation in their prisons having regard to the outbreak of the present pandemic in the country and release certain prisoners and for that purpose to determine the category of prisoners to be released.
"No prisoner shall be released if he/she has suffered from coronavirus disease in communicable form hereafter. For this purpose, appropriate tests will be carried out... Transportation shall be done in full compliance of the Rules and Norms of social distancing. For instance, no transportation shall be allowed in excess of half or one fourth capacity of the bus...," said the top court.