The Maharashtra Prison Department has started registering offences against over 800 convicts who were released on emergency parole during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of a prison decongestion effort, but have failed to return to prison even after their parole was revoked by the state government in May this year.
Of the 4,240 convicts released on emergency parole in 2020-21 from 46 state prisons, 860 have failed to return to their respective prisons by Tuesday, effectively jumping parole.
Over the last few days, prison officials have registered offences across the state against 113 of these 860 inmates under Indian Penal Code section 224, which pertains to resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension. More such offences will be filed in the coming days, officials said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, following a Supreme Court ruling on the issue of possible spread of Covid-19 inside prisons, a committee was constituted by the state government to determine the criteria for the release of inmates on interim bail and emergency parole. In accordance with the decisions of the committee, eligible prisoners were temporarily released from time to time.
As per the guidelines, under-trials and convicts who have been incarcerated for lesser and non-heinous offences – that attract less than seven years of jail term — were released on interim bail granted by the respective courts or emergency parole granted by prison authorities. At a later stage, these norms were expanded and inmates facing even more serious charges were also released on interim bail and emergency parole.
As the first wave of Covid-19 subsided, the Prison Department halted the decongestion effort and the inmate population started rising again. During the second wave in 2021, the department again launched a decongestion effort and released inmates on the same criterion.
In a resolution issued on May 4 this year, the government ordered the Prison Department to take back the inmates released on parole. Accordingly, jail authorities sent notices to these inmates to return to prisons. This was also communicated through the respective police stations.
Of the total 4,240 convicts released from 46 prisons across the state in 2020 and 2021, 136 reported back even before the May 4 order was issued, four were acquitted by the court, eight passed away due to various reasons and 3,232 returned to prisons after receiving the notices.
Additional Director General of Police Sunil Ramanand, who currently holds charge of the Prison Department, told The Indian Express, “We have started registering cases against the convicts who failed to report back to prison in the stipulated time period. The government order of May 4 specifies that those who do not return should be booked under IPC section 224. These cases are being registered by the respective prison authorities.”
Officials said that during the same decongestion effort over two phases, 6,567 under-trial inmates were released on emergency bail by the courts. Directives on those released on bail have not been issued by the government as these cases are under the purview of respective courts and investigation units.