New Delhi, June 5: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain a petition relating to de-congestion of prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it could not pass specific directions as the situation was not similar in all States. The court allowed the petitioner to withdraw the petition and granted him liberty to approach the High Courts concerned, The Hindu reported.

On March 16, the court had taken suo motu cognisance of the overcrowding of prisons and said it was difficult for inmates to maintain physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread.

The plea came up for hearing before a Bench led by CJI Bobde. “Counsel for the petitioner seeks permission to withdraw this petition with liberty to move the jurisdictional High Courts. Permission sought for is granted. The writ petition is dismissed as withdrawn,” it said.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Jagdeep S. Chhokar, who is a former Director in-charge of the IIM-Ahmedabad, said the court might ask for a status report from each State. He claimed that despite the court’s orders, those charged with minor offences were not being released.

He argued that the States should be asked to submit details of how many undertrial prisoners had been released and how many were suffering from co-morbidities.

The Bench observed that it would not pass uniform directions, and this issue had to be considered by the High Courts. “We would like to have the view of the High Court.”

While hearing the suo motu case on April 13, the Supreme Court made it clear that it had not directed all the States and Union Territories to compulsorily release prisoners and its earlier orders were meant to prevent over-crowding of prisons in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

On March 23, it directed all the States and Union Territories to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrial prisoners for offences entailing up to seven years in jail so as to decongest prisons.

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