A report released on Saturday by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said the population in Indian prisons reduced by 10.42% from April to June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report urged the State governments and prison authorities to continue the measures to decongest prisons. The report, titled ‘Responding to the Pandemic: Prisons and Overcrowding’, said that after high-powered committees were formed on orders of the Supreme Court to reduce overcrowding, the occupancy in prisons of 22 States and Union Territories reduced from 107.8% on December 31, 2019 to 103.1% on April 1, 2020 and then to 93.3% on June 30.
“However, a closer look at the prison-wise occupancy showed that 27% of the prisons in 19 States/UTs continued to be overcrowded,” a CHRI statement said.
Speaking during the virtual launch of the report, retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur said: “We talk about bail not jail, but the issue of prison overcrowding can be addressed at a much earlier stage… It is where the role of investigating officer, prosecution, the judge and the legal aid lawyer become very important.”
Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Justice S. Murlidhar, spoke about need for “constant upgradation and maintenance” of the technological interventions introduced during the pandemic, including the videocalling facilities for prisoners. Prisoners may not be able to speak frankly with lawyers and privacy for the videocalls must be preserved, perhaps using glass enclosures, he said.