Intellectuals appeal for release of prisoners

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 3/31/2020 12:54:25 AM

NEW DELHI, March 30: About two dozen intellectuals, writers and academics of the country have made an urgent appeal to the government to ease the over-crowded prisons in view of the outbreak of Covid19 and also in keeping with the recent Supreme Court directive. They have sought release on bail or parole of at least some of the prisoners including political detenues from across the country.
In a joint statement today, the writers maintained that the emerging public health concern is
an occasion to look at the overcrowded prisons in the country. “According to India Justice Report (2019) the national average of occupancy in prisons is 114 percent of its capacity,” the statement reminded, adding that the average only tells part of the story as the condition varies from state to state.
It said that the outbreak of a pandemic such as Covid19 will have disastrous impact
in a closed environment such as a prison even in normal conditions. “Overcrowding will exacerbate the situation beyond control and that calls for immediate attention of the governments concerned. The India Justice Report also stated that over 67 percent of prisoners in the
country belong to the category of under-trial prisoners, meaning people in custody awaiting 'investigation, inquiry or trial',” the statement added.
Supreme Court had recently directed the state governments to consider granting bail to remand prisoners, accused of committing crimes punishable with a maximum of seven years imprisonment. The apex court also directed the state governments to form a high-power committee to handle this matter. The court suggested the committee to examine the possibility of releasing convicted prisoners and other remand prisoners on parole in view of the health hazards.
In light of these apex court directives, the intellectuals called upon the Union and State Governments to take the directive of the Honourable Supreme Court in letter and
spirit and initiate steps to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the prisons. “We would like to draw the attention of all the concerned authorities to the examples seen across the world where prisoners,
including political prisoners, have been released in view of the present pandemic, they said in the statement.
It also added that the prisons across the country are having a large number of political
prisoners, undergoing incarceration as under-trials for many years or as convicts. “Many of them have served more than five years in prison without any clarity on commencement of trial in these cases. Some of them are already suffering from many ailments,” the statement said.
It gave examples of some of these cases including those of former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, poet Varavara Rao, Prof. Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj and several others elderly and afflicted from ailments in jail in Maharashtra. “In Tamil Nadu, Padma and Veeramony, also suffering from various illnesses and old age, are in jail. A number of political prisoners in remand who have got bail in a number of cases are still imprisoned waiting for bail or acquittal in some other cases. For example, 65-year old Ibrahim, a chronic diabetic also suffering from
cardiac problems, has been in jail in Kerala for more than five years. He is waiting for bail in only one case. Danish, another prisoner in the High Security Prison,Viyyur, Kerala, suffering from acute urinary infections, is still in jail despite gaining bail in all cases,” the statement added.
It also added that many jails in the country are not having proper hospitals, adequate
doctors or treatment facilities. “The prisoners have no option other than the overstretched public health system outside in case of an emergency. Most often prisoners are not in a position to receive adequate medical care on time due to delays caused by various administrative formalities. The situation of prisoners would be far worse when the already inadequate public health system would be overstretched in dealing with the Covid19 outbreak. The arrangements
made in prisons to deal with the seriousness of situation remains unknown,” it further said.
The intellectuals made and strong appeal to the Union and State Governments
to initiate immediate steps to provide bail or parole to all political prisoners on a priority basis along with other prisoners. A few states such as Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab have announced their intention to release a section of prisoners in the past few days. It is a matter
of regret these state governments did not mention the release of political prisoners as deserving recipients of such amnesty, they, however, regretted.
The signatories to the statement included noted writer and Booker prize winner Arundhathi Roy, Prof. Jairus Banaji (SOAS University London), Prof. Alessandra Mezzadri: Professor, SOAS University of London, Prof. Shakuntala Banaji: London School of Economics, Bernard D'Mello: Author, Pro.Hargopal, Hyderabad, Xavier Dias: Rights Activist, SK Das: Architect, Nalini Taneja: University of Delhi, Sukla Sen: Author, Benjamin Zachariah: University of Heidelberg, Prof. Dilip Menon: University of Witwatersrand, Rohini Hensman: Writer and Activist, Subir Sinha: SOAS, University of London, Sujato Bhadra: Vice President Committee for Release of Political Prisoners, Gilbert Achcar: SOAS University of London, Stan Swamy : Activist, Harsh Kapoor: Activist, Rutuja Deshmukh:Activist, Kamal Mitra Chenoy :Activist, Tarun Bharatiya: Documentary Film Maker and Adv.V.Reghunath, Civil Liberties, Telangana.



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