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By PTI
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognizance of delay on the part Uttar Pradesh authorities in releasing 13 prisoners who were granted bail by it on July 8.

The convicts, who were juveniles at the time of offence have been lodged in Agra Central Jail for periods ranging from around 14 to 22 years in a murder case.

The 13 convicts had approached the top court, claiming their detention to be “illegal” as there were clear orders passed by the Juvenile Justice Board with regard to each of them at various intervals between February 2017 and March 2021, declaring them to be juvenile at the time of murder.

The apex court on July 8 had ordered their release on interim bail while granting time to the Uttar Pradesh government to verify the facts about their continued stay in jail despite orders establishing their juvenility.

Chief Justice N V Ramana took note of the reports that despite grant of bail to the convicts, whose juvenility at the time of the offence has been established, they have not been released so far.

A fresh suo motu case titled as ‘In re Delay in Release of Convicts after Grant of Bail’ has been instituted on July 13 and would be taken up on Friday by a bench comprising the CJI and justices L Nageswara Rao and A S Bopanna.

The 13 prisoners had said in their plea that they are languishing in jail despite the fact that they have been declared to be below 18 years of age at the time of commission of offence by the Juvenile Justice Board.

“The miseries are further compounded by the fact that these petitioners who are languishing in Agra central jail have already undergone judicial incarceration for periods ranging from 14 years to 22 years,” the plea had said.

It said the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act stipulates a maximum period of incarceration of three years and that too in juvenile homes.

“However, here is the case where the petitioners languish in hardcore jail amongst hardcore criminals thereby completely negating the purpose and objects of Juvenile Justices Act,” it had said.

It had said that Juvenile Justice Board, in its orders from February 2017 to March this year, had categorically held that all these petitioners were below the age of 18 years on the date of commission of offences.

“It is unfortunate that despite a categorical order declaring these petitioners as juvenile, the petitioners are languishing in central jail, Agra having undergone custody ranging from 14 years to 22 years,” it had said.

The top court on Friday would also take stock of the situation in relation to its May 8 order in another suo motu case of 2020 which was meant to decongest prisons in view of the spread of COVID-19 contagion in prisons.

Taking note of the “unprecedented surge” in COVID-19 cases, a CJI-led bench on May 8 had passed a slew of directions to decongest prisons and had ordered immediate release of prisoners who were granted bail or parole last year.

Observing that the decongestion of prisons housing around four lakh inmates across the country is a matter concerning “health and right to life of” prisoners and police personnel, it had said said all those who were allowed to go out on bail in March last year by the high-powered committees of states and Union Territories (UTs) be granted the same relief without any reconsideration to avoid delay.

On March 16, 2020, the top court had taken suo motu cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country and said it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.