The Bombay High Court Bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta is hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) case on the rise in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra prisons. .The litigation was initiated based on newspaper reports which highlighted an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in the last few days in prisons in the State..Live updates of the hearing today feature here. .Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submits an affidavit in the plea. The same contains details of the prisoners, and the suggested steps to contain the spike in COVID..AG: What has happened is in earlier high power committee the applications for bail were collected and released to the Court and then decisions were taken. Now we will do this again. And milords may permit us to do so..AG: Second is we have been releasing on our own the inmates on parole in terms of HPC guidelines. A line in Milords order will help us do it. Strictly in terms of HPC guidelines..AG: Though this is not a case and I cannot pitch one department against another but the jail authorities have suggested places for new prisons for permanent placement. .CJ: Which department is to consider? .AG: There are many, revenue, home….AG: Then we want to create temporary prisons. Hostels, classrooms, using them, 36 prisons were created. When schools started, all had to be returned back. We have started reclaiming them. We have reclaimed 14 out of them. .AG: Proposals are pending with District Collectors for remaining locations. Milords may pass an order that concerned authorities to consider the applications..AG: The important legal issue for preventing and spreading is that no new prisoner should be allowed in unless he is RT-PCR negative at the door of the prison.AG: Once judicial custody is ordered, the interregnum between police custody and judicial custody, the undertrial should be detained with the police till the test results come. And that should not be considered illegal detention..CJ: Is this workable? Instead, when he is produced before the Magistrate, he can be tested so then whatever is the order, he will have the test result. Because there is chance of that spreading amongst the police personnel..Senior Advocate Mihir Desai who is assisting the court with this plea submits that the undertrial can be sent to the COVID-19 care centres for 7 days or 10 days. Because the test may come negative one day and positive in two days..AG: We can do this when we get temporary jails. CJ: While you arrest a person and bring him to police station, there could be one test there. Once he is transferred to temporary prison, then you will monitor them and then re-test probably..AG: And we are also randomly testing inmates. .CJ: After April 13 BreakTheChain order, what is the crime rate? .AG: We will have to find out. .CJ: What we read is that people are not abiding by the rules and hence stricter lockdown might be imposed..Sr Adv Desai: And AG can also find out what is the crime rate for non-compliance and what is otherwise. Because non-compliance may be a lot more..CJ: And if you arrest someone who is above 45 yrs old, then he can be taken to the vaccination centre and then tested. For RT-PCR, you can also check for the result a positive or a negative. .AG: A false negative is worse than false positive..CJ: And if the crime rate has dropped because of the restrictions, then that may give you breathing time..CJ: All courts and correctional homes are connected by video conference facilities? .AG: I think so. .CJ: If yes then this can be tackled..AG: Sometimes accused request that they want to come to court. Because of fresh air, they can meet friends, they can meet family, have home cooked. So if there is an order, then that will strengthen our hands..CJ: So if he asks then what to do? .AG: Then in such circumstances he cannot ask..CJ (to Desai): Can we restrict the prisoners from coming to court? Or physically remaining present in court? .Desai: I do not see an objection considering the pandemic but if they cannot go out, then they could communicate with their inmates either through the telephone or VC..CJ: what is the present frequency? AG: Once a week for 5-10 mins. CJ: Can you make it twice a week? AG: Yes..Desai: Just one clarification, anyway the prisoners were not being produced unless there was some request or court date because of the ongoing pandemic. So in any case they were not frequently brought in..Desai: So may I request that this not be passed in the order. As it may become the norm. CJ: No this will not. We have to consider that when you want the prisoner to come, arrangements have to be made..Desai: Prison authorities have required that for equitable distribution take order from the court, we have not found any law to that effect. .CJ: You produce we will consider Desai: For decongestion, AG suggested a new entrance and bail conditions. Let us also consider the bail applications wherein bail applications were not granted bail, let them review those situations..CJ: Some change in circumstances has to be pointed out then. Because we sit in appeal over the previous order. So those applications which have been earlier refused, the inmates can point out change in circumstances and if it benefit of the prisoner, then it has to be considered..Desai: The eligibility conditions for parole is by HPC. If a suggestion can meet again. Because for 24000 we have 35000 prisoners. Because earlier they said only 16000. If the HPC can review the situation again after last year. We can make a representation to them..CJ: Affidavit filed by govt, soft copy will be sent to you. We will keep this on Thursday, you bring your suggestion on Thursday, we do not intend to pass directions on your suggestions, but only on the AG’s for now..CJ: As for the HPC suggestion, you will have to show us what should they consider. Because we will also be sitting in the appeal of the previous order. You have to show the change in circumstances to us too (*laughs*).AG: I request Mr. Desai to share the suggestions to us. I can discuss the practicality with the authorities and we can come up with better solutions. CJ: So what was happening in the previous year? About production of undertrials? .AG points out the order of the Supreme Court. CJ (from the order): This order covers this issue. And this was passed before the lockdown was imposed. So we will consider the situation now to be the same as the situation now. And we will consider this when passing the order..CJ states a detailed order based on the suggestions of the AG will be passed today in chamber.