A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by social worker Medha Patkar
Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Wednesday said the high-powered committee set up by the Maharashtra government had the discretion to decide which prisoners were entitled to be released on temporary bail or parole amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The high court also made it clear that no prisoner can claim right or entitlement to seek temporary release during the pandemic.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by social worker Medha Patkar through her NGO ‘National Alliance for People’s Movements’ challenging an order passed by the high powered committee.
As per the order dated March 25, 2020, the committee had said those prisoners who have been convicted or are facing charges under special Acts or in serious offences, wherein the punishment is above seven years, are not entitled to be released on temporary bail or parole amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petitioner’s advocate SB Talekar had argued that the committee had exceeded its jurisdiction by classifying prisoners and it was infringing upon a person's fundamental right to equality. The bench, in its order, however, noted that the principle of equality does not take away from the state the power of classifying persons for legitimate purposes.
“Equality before law does not mean that things which are different shall be treated as though they were the same,” the court said.
The bench further noted that the committee had a discretion to determine the category of prisoners who would be entitled to be released on temporary bail or parole. “It is clear that the HPC (high-powered committee) balanced the rights of the prisoners to maintain maximum possible distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as the rights of the society,” the court said.
“It is fallacious to contend that inmates can claim an absolute right for release in a situation like the prevailing pandemic as if it were flowing either from the Constitution or any other statute,” the court said.