Medha Patkar, a social activist, has moved Supreme Court seeking directions to formulate a uniform mechanism to release prisoners aged 70 years in all states and union territories.
The petition presented by advocate SB Talekar, stated that the categorisation of prisoners and their release has mostly been based on social conditions and administrative convenience. Patkar in her plea has mentioned how old age and susceptibility to the virus should be a key factor. She stressed on the fact that the most susceptible prisoners are elderly prisoners, who have a higher chance of getting infected, especially those above 70 years of age.
The petition provided examples of states such as Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh which had taken steps to release old age prisoners in accordance with the SC order on May 8th which called for decongestion of prisoners.
“It can be thus seen from the different approaches of the HPC’s that there is no uniformity in this regard by the HPC’s of different State and also there seems to be no uniform criteria adopted by the States to decongest the prisons where aged/elderly prisons are undergoing their sentence of imprisonment,” as per Patkar’s petition.
On May 8, 2021, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana led bench of the SC which had ordered that the high-powered committees established by by State governments and Union Territories should consider releasing prisoners on parole, as per guidelines prescribed last year. This was considering the overcrowding in jails during the time of the second wave of Covid pandemic.
However, the High Powered Committees did not take into account, the categorization of prisoners on the basis of their susceptibility to the infection. Patkar’s plea aims to prioritize susceptibility and age in such a categorisation, so as to safeguard interests of those most vulnerable to the virus in environments such as prisons.