The Supreme Court on Friday directed that prisoners released with the objective of decongesting jails during Covid-19 should not be asked to surrender until further orders, Live Law reported.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana also observed that uniform guidelines should be put in place across all the states to deal with the release of such prisoners.

Last year, the Supreme Court had directed state government to form high-powered committees to consider the release of convicts and undertrials in relatively minor offences on interim bail or parole to decongest prisons. On May 7 this year, the court had directed the committees to consider giving interim bail or parole to certain categories of prisoners.

During Friday’s hearing, the court also directed state governments to file reports detailing the criteria adopted by the high-powered committees to release the prisoners. The court also asked the National Legal Services Authority to file a report in the case.

The bench has asked states to explain whether they have considered factors like age and co-morbidities while granting parole. States have also been asked to specify if the high-powered committees are also considering prisoners whose appeals are pending in higher courts.

Meanwhile, the Centre said it has no objection if the court’s order was extended. Amicus curiae Dushyant Dave told the court that the prisoners should be released in view of the impending third wave of the coronavirus, Bar and Bench reported.

The judges directed NALSA and the state governments to file their reports by July 23. The case will be heard again on August 3.

Last month, 45 non-government organisations and 187 professionals from several sectors wrote to Chief Justice Ramana, urging him to take steps to safeguard the interests of prisoners amid the health crisis.

Their letter said that the high-powered did not take into account the prisoner’s age, health status or comorbidities related to Covid-19.

On May 13, 2020, the World Health Organization and other international bodies had released a statement bringing attention to the heightened vulnerability of prisoners amid the Covid-19 crisis.

“We urge political leaders to consider limiting the deprivation of liberty, including pretrial detention, to a measure of last resort, particularly in the case of overcrowding, and to enhance efforts to resort to non-custodial measures,” the statement read.