An activist, VK Ohri has written a letter to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde seeking directions for protection of life and fundamental rights of people accused of trivial crimes and other prisoners in the country in view of COVID-19 epidemic.
“The present letter is in the public interest considering the fact of high risk of transmission of COVID-19 virus to the prison and considering the fact that prosecution authorities are still incarcerating people during this difficult time unconcerned with the consequences for even a single mistake,” states the letter.
“Since people are still being brought in to prisons and taken to hospitals, which are essentially breeding grounds for coronavirus, for conducting MLCs, those who are accused of petty crimes impose a direct risk of death to inmates, who may eventually be found innocent and, in certain cases, may be found to be implicated in false cases. This Hon’ble Court has taken cognizance of the fact that a total of 1339 prisons in India are over-crowded, and approximately 4,66,084 inmates inhabit in these prisons,” he has written.
The letter states that the police and other law enforcement authorities have been registering and arresting people throughout the country which may include a COVID-19 virus affected person; this may spread the contagious virus in prisons which will be not less than a death sentence to many inmates of such jails.
“Even though arrest rate has been reduced during the lockdown period, the approach to law enforcement needs systematic modifications and there is urgent need to limit intakes in prisons which must follow a detailed medical scrutiny of the alleged accused to avoid the spread of coronavirus in prisons,” the letter says.
Ohri urged the CJI to release political prisoners on bail/parole and suspend custodial investigations of accused in cases which do not require urgent investigation and which are not considered heinous crimes till such time that spread of the deadly virus is brought under control
His letter further urged the CJI to consider release of aged inmates and to direct the state governments to consider setting-up temporary jails in large sport stadiums and/or schools till the time coronavirus epidemic is taken under control.
“This humble request is to avoid a devastating situation which may arise because coronavirus pandemic has made every arrest into a potential death sentence,” his letter concludes.