31 March 2020
Kolkata: Over 3,000 undertrials and convicted prisoners have been freed by the West Bengal government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection, a senior minister said on Tuesday.
The decision came following a Supreme Court directive and unrest among jailbirds in various correctional homes (as prisons are called in Bengal) after the coronavirus outbreak in the state.
"On Monday, 3,076 inmates from 60 correctional homes were released. Due to the ongoing lockdown in the country, the freed jailbirds are being driven to their respective homes by the correctional home administration by following all norms of hygiene and social distancing," state Correctional Services Minister Ujjal Biswas told IANS.
The released prisoners included 2,059 undertrials who have been granted interim bail. Besides, 1,017 convicts have also been set free on a three-month parole.
Biswas said the decision was taken in view of the near impossible task of following the social distancing norms with so many prisoners lodged in correctional homes, which now house around 2,000 prisoners.
The minister said the prisoners were being taken home in separate vehicles meant for each of the districts considering the present situation related to COVID 19.
"All prisoners will be dropped off within the next four-five days," he said.
At least four prisoners had died and a number of police personnel sustained injuries on March 21-22 at the Dum Dum Central Jail after angry correctional home inmates indulged in arson and attacked security forces protesting against the bar on meeting family members and the increasing number of pending cases due to the temporary closure of courts owing to the coronavirus scare.
Demanding that they be released forthwith for their safety, the undertials had brickbatted the jail guards and tried to demolish the prison walls in order to escape.
The police resorted to lobbing tear gas shells, and opened fire after the situation worsened.
"We had then taken a decision to release the convicts on parole. The undertrials were aggrieved and became violent demanding they be released," Biswas said.
With the correctional homes now less crowded, authorities are taking all measures to ensure strict compliance of hygiene and social distancing norms on the part of the prisoners and the jail staff.
"There is now adequate number of hand sanitisers and masks in the correctional homes. In fact, the prisoners had been drafted in making masks and manufacturing hand santisiers considering their vast requirement in the state.
"The violent agitation has, however, hampered these activities," he said.
Biswas said that a number of convicts have donated money to the Chief Minister's relief fund from the money they are paid as daily wages.
"For instance, a group of convicts in Midnapore Central Correctional Home has donated Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000," he said.