On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that it never meant to release all categories of prisoners accused of any offense amid pandemic.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, dismissed a plea by the National Alliance for People’s Movement, through its convenor Medha Patkar, challenging the Bombay High Court decision to uphold the Maharashtra high-powered committee’s recommendation to not release on emergency parole prisoners convicted for offenses punishable with less than seven years under special Acts such as the NDPS Act, UAPA, MCOCA, etc,

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the apex court had, in its order on March 23, had asked states to constitute high-powered committees to decide the release of prisoners on interim bail while considering the gravity of the offense committed and the length of the jail term.

“The present option provided is only as a solution to help decongestion and to avoid the spread of the virus. At the same time, the benefit granted in such circumstances cannot be to the detriment of social order by releasing all categories of prisoners irrespective of the categorization to be made depending on the severity of the crime, etc,” said the top court.

The bench observed that it is of the opinion the HPC is constituted for a specific purpose, and interference in a judicial proceeding of the present nature to alter the criteria would not arise unless it is shown to be so arbitrary that no reasonable person can accept it.

The plea had contended despite HPC orders, many continue to languish in jails in Maharashtra.

“Reconsider the cases of 11,000 convicted prisoners for temporary release on emergency parole pending the final hearing of the matter as per the classification of the prisoners done by the HPC and pursuant to the decision of the Government of Maharashtra, as announced by the Home Minister by way of a press release dated March 26, if they are yet to be released,” the plea had said.

The apex court said it is necessary to indicate that the cause for grievance may arise for an individual undertrial/convicted prisoner only if such person has been discriminated against as against the prisoner in the same category for which the benefit has been provided by the categorization made by the HPC.

“But in circumstances where there is any individual discrimination amongst the prisoners in the same category and similarly placed, it would be open for the competent court to examine the same to that limited extent when the grievance is raised by the person who is denied the benefit if he/she is entitled to such benefit,” the top court said.