Ever since the global pandemic has started ravaging the country with the fatalities of its second wave, the government has been at a fix to find possible solutions to deal with the crisis and stall the virus from spreading rapidly. At the same time, the maintenance of law and order cannot be overlooked. For the sake of the safety of society, convicts have to be kept behind the bars of the correctional home. However, the same might pose a problem, when looked at from a different point of view.
Such a view has been projected by social activist Medha Patkar who has moved to the Hon’ble Supreme Court with her plea that the prisoner’s ages above seventy years should be released so that the cells can be decongested to some extent. She is being represented by Advocate Vipin Nair. The plea submits that according to the research reports of the World Health Organization as well as the notifications issued by the Ministry of Health and Welfare Department, covid 19 is likely to affect the older population in the worst way as they have a weak immunity system. This section of the population is more prone to getting affected with diseases that are more severe like cardiovascular and respiratory problems that might even result in their deaths. Cancer and diabetes are also possible. This might increase the mortality rates among elderly prisoners in India.
On 23rd March 2021, the apex court had directed all the states and union territories to constitute HPCs to categorize the prisoners who could be released on an emergency basis on interim bail. It had further been clarified in the Hon’ble Supreme Court judgement dated 13th April 2021 that the motive of the 23rd March order was to conduct a complete investigation on the actual situation of the prisoners and then release them only to avoid congestion.
The plea submitted by Medha Patkar contends that the investigation and categorization had been done based on the social conditions of the prisoners and for the sole sake of administrative convenience. Therefore, the need for attention to the health conditions of the prisoners had been overlooked and the fact that the elderly prisoners are more likely to be infected with the virus had not been paid heed to. The petition goes on to submit reports regarding the working of the various HPCs and the total number of prisoners aged above seventy in the country with statistical validity as per the National Prison Information Portal. Citing the reports of the HPCs working in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the plea points out that there had been no steps taken by many of the states regarding the release of the elderly prisoners. There has been no uniformity among the states and union territories in the matter of following the directions given by the Hon’ble supreme court.
The social activist pleads to the Hon’ble court that according to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Right to Health is an essential part of the Right to life and the same cannot be refused to the prisoners as well. Moreover, according to studies, the tendency to commit crimes repeatedly reduces after a certain age. Therefore, the petition presents an earnest plea to the Hon’ble court to release the prisoners aged above seventy years for humanitarian causes.