Home / India News / ‘Very sorry state of affairs’ notes Bombay HC on conducting Covid-19 tests in Maha prisons
Mumbai: A two-member division bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Tuesday expressed displeasure and anguish over the “very sorry state of affairs” regarding conducting coronavirus disease (Covid-19) tests on inmates lodged in jails and correctional homes across Maharashtra amid the raging viral outbreak, which has already claimed the lives of four under-trials.
The bench, comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice KK Tated, accepted the argument of a public interest litigation (PIL) put forth on behalf of the petitioner, the Mumbai chapter of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), about the prison authorities’ callous approach towards the inmates and expressed safety concern for them.
The PUCL, the largest and the oldest human rights organisation in the country, has drawn the court’s attention that the number of Covid-19 tests carried on inmates of the correctional homes and jails across Maharashtra was abysmally low, which prompted the HC to order the state government to make amends at the earliest.
The court took exception to a report submitted before it by additional director-general of police (ADG) (prisons), Sunil Ramanand, and said it reveals “a very sorry state of affairs” regarding the steps taken to contain the spread of the viral outbreak in jails and correctional homes.
The report had stated that the jail authorities had conducted 17,695 Covid-19 tests on inmates and jail staff.
Swab samples were collected from 1,681 inmates, of which 269 tested Covid-19 positive. Another 73 jail staff, too, contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease, the report said.
The judges were annoyed that four under-trial prisoners died in jails and swab samples collected after their death revealed that they were suffering from Covid-19.
PUCL had moved the court, alleging there was a lack of transparency regarding the health condition of the prisoners amid the pandemic, which has triggered panic and concern among the community, family members of the inmates, and also their lawyers.
The petitioner body has also sought directions to ensure that the inmates have ample access to personal protective equipment (PPE) items such as face masks, hand sanitiser, soaps, etc; for free.
It has urged that the prisoners should enjoy the same healthcare standards as that are available to any other free citizen of this country.
It has also prayed for a report from prison authorities entailing measures taken by them for prevention of the spread of Covid-19 in jails.
The court has ordered Maharashtra advocate-general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to appear before it on the next date of the hearing on Friday, as Ramanand had pleaded the authorities’ inability to provide adequate space to quarantine prisoners, who have tested Covid-19 positive.
It has ordered the state government to direct district collectors to identify suitable space to quarantine prisoners, who have tested Covid-19 positive.
The bench has also called for details such as the capacity of the jails to house under-trial prisoners, the actual number of such prisoners lodged in jails across Maharashtra and the number of senior citizen inmates.