Remark comes in the wake of a drop in the number of cases reported among prisoners.
The Delhi High Court on Tuesday observed that its blanket order extending interim bails and paroles granted to prisoners in view of the COVID-19 pandemic should come to an end as the number of infected persons in jails in New Delhi was only three. According to the Director General (Prisons), over 6,700 prisoners are out on bail or parole and continue to remain outside in view of the blanket order passed and extended from time-to-time by a full Bench of the High Court.
The DG Prisons also told the High Court that the three jails – Tihar, Rohini and Mandoli – in the national capital together have a capacity of around 10,000, but presently there were 15,900 prisoners lodged in them.
The full Bench headed by Chief Justice D N Patel on Tuesday said, “Let us bring to an end the COVID chapter. Let these people surrender or go back to jail. We passed the order in view of the pandemic. Our order has nothing to do with overcrowding of the jails. We are not concerned by the nature of the crimes.”
“The COVID chapter is over. The other reasons for grant or extension of bail and parole can continue. We will go back to the situation that prevailed in January-February this year,” he added.
The Bench also observed that the prison was taking care of the issue and those who had tested positive for COVID-19 in jails have been hospitalised.
The Chief Justice said the judges of the full Bench, also including Justices Siddharth Mridul and Talwant Singh, will sit together and take a decision on whether to extend the blanket or not.
The observations by the Bench came while hearing an application, moved by one of the prosecutors dealing with the northeast Delhi riots cases in the trial courts, seeking modification of the High Court’s July 13 and July 24 orders by which it had clarified that its orders extending interim bails/paroles would be applicable to everyone granted the relief before or after March 16.
The application has alleged that the two orders were being misused by the accused in the riots cases by seeking bail on grounds of family illness or some such other reasons, instead of seeking regular bail, and then getting the same extended on the basis of the High Court’s direction.
The lawyer told the Bench during the hearing around 20 accused in the riots cases were out on interim bail on some pretext and are now enjoying the benefits of the High Court’s blanket order.
He also said that the prosecution opposes grant of bail in such cases as the accused do not surrender after the bail expires in view of the High Court order.
Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra, appearing for the DG Prisons, told the Bench that removing the blanket order would go against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s order to decongest jails during the pandemic as COVID-19 cases have not gone down in the national capital.
He further said that the decongestion of the prisons has not led to any increase in crimes or anarchy in the city.
The High Court on September 28 had said it will not permit misuse of its orders and it will recall its extension order if it was being misused.
The Bench said, “If they (prisoners) are misusing it, we will stop it and then let them suffer.”
The High Court on August 24 had extended till October 31 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 persisting COVID-19 pandemic.
It had also extended the relief in cases related to those who were out on interim bail or parole and may carry COVID-19 infection.
If interim bail of anyone is ending, they are required to surrender to the already congested and over-crowded jails, which may not be in a position to strictly maintain physical distancing amongst inmates, it may pose a risk of unchecked spread of the virus, the court had said.
On March 25, the High Court had extended till May 15 the interim orders in all matters pending before it and subordinate courts in view of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown. Thereafter, the relief was extended from time-to-time.