The Supreme Court on Friday directed all convicts and undertrial prisoners released during the Covid-19 pandemic to surrender within 15 days, reported PTI.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court had asked all states and Union Territories to set up high-level committees to consider releasing prisoners or undertrials on parole or interim bail if they were accused of offences entailing up to seven years in prison. The order was issued to decongest jails in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

The court had noted at the time that prisons across the country were overcrowded even as the government had advised to maintain physical distancing.

On Friday, a bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said the prisoners, who were released on emergency bail or parole during the pandemic, can move for regular bail before competent courts after their surrender, reported PTI.

Within a week after Supreme Court had made the suggestion in 2020, Delhi’s Tihar Jail had released 419 prisoners. In May 2020, Maharashtra government had granted temporary bail or parole to 50% of prisoners across the state during.

However, in June 2021 during the second wave of coronavirus, 45 non-government organisations and 187 professionals from healthcare and allied sectors had written to the chief justice of India, the chief justices of all High Courts and other legal authorities, urging them to take steps to safeguard the interests of prisoners to prevent the spread of the virus.

More than 61,000 prisoners were released during the first wave of the coronavirus to decongest jails, but that only reduced the occupancy in jails by 15.4%, the signatories had said.

They had urged the legal authorities to modify the criteria to release prisoners to include priorities based on age, health status and co-morbidities. They also demanded that all prisoners must be vaccinated.