Nearly 3,000 inmates are likely to be released within this week from Delhi’s 16 jails, including Tihar, which houses some of the country’s high-profile businessmen also as undertrials and convicts.
The government has “resolved” to not grant interim bail to undertrials facing corruption and prevention of money-laundering charges. Those being probed by the CBI, enforcement directorate and the National Investigation Agency for anti-national activities, foreign nationals, and people facing charges of rape, acid attack and crime against children will also not be released, even if they have remained in custody for over a month, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The exercise follows the Supreme Court’s March 16 directions that had underlined the “imminent need” to take steps on an “urgent basis” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Indian prisons.
A two-tier approach has been worked on to deal with convicts and undertrials. While a 45-day interim bail will be granted to undertrials, a five-member committee chaired by the director-general of prisons in Delhi, Sandeep Goel, was constituted on Friday to decide which convict would be released for an eight-week “emergency” parole.
As per the notification issued on Friday, seen by ET, convicts who are currently outside the prison either on furlough or parole would be granted eight weeks of emergency parole. Also, all convicts who have availed of furlough or parole in the past and have “overall satisfactory conduct” would be granted eight weeks of emergency parole on furnishing of a personal bond.
As regards undertrials, on March 24 the director-general shared with Delhi legal services authoritieswith names of around 1,000 under trial prisoners lodged in the 16 jails of Delhi, located at Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini. The jails currently house 17,440 inmates (2,997 convicts, 14,355 undertrials and 88 civil prisoners) against their cumulative capacity of 10,026 prisoners.
Undertrials who are “first time offenders, have been arrested or facing trial for an offence punishable up to seven years or less and have been in custody for the last three months or more will be considered for interim bail”, said a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
He added: “Necessary instructions were issued to legal services authorities to depute panel lawyers not only to assist remand but also for drafting of interim bail applications.”
Another jail official said, “As regards undertrials, the process started around five days back and a list was sent to the concerned court which ordered release of nearly 460 undertrials. Of these, 356 stand released on Saturday.”
For the release of convicts, the notification issued by the Delhi government on March 27 says: “Satisfactory conduct would mean that the convict has not indulged in any major misconduct during his incarceration in the last three years or during parole in the past. Minor incidents of misconduct, if any, on the part of the convict may be ignored. However, in exceptional cases, where the superintendent feels that despite a major misconduct on the part of the convict earlier, he has shown good signs of improvement and reformation in his behaviour and his going out on emergency parole will not be detrimental to the interest of society, he may recommended the names of such convict for grant of emergency parole to the DG (prisons)”.
One of the jail officials cited above said 2,500-3,000 prisoners would be released within a week.
Unimpressed with the criteria adopted by the Delhi government, advocate Manu Sharma, a counsel for former Religare promoter Malvinder Singh who is currently lodged in Tihar jail with brother Shivinder, told ET: “Whoever has taken this call in the government seems not to have understood the concept of interim bail. The point of bail in the first place is to secure attendance at the trial. Only cases where there is proven misconduct in avoiding investigation or trial bail should be denied. More so in a situation like the present one, all that the authorities should be concerned about is whether the person will turn up to surrender when the situation improves and for that the antecedents have to be examined. To fix it on the basis of a possible sentence (7 years is what the government has fixed as upper limit for interim bail) is flawed to say the least. For economic offences where evidence is documentary in nature and where investigation is over and charge sheet has been filed there are hundreds of cases where nails have been granted. It is unfortunate that instead of adopting a humane approach and be guided by principles of bail, in these offences the government has come up with these flawed parameters.”