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CoronaVirus: Supreme Court takes up issue of overcrowding in prisons, seeks suggestions for prevention

The Court observed that the overcrowding in prisons across the country posed a risk during the ongoing health crisis.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today issued show cause notices to prison authorities and social welfare departments of all states on the issue of the Coronavirus outbreak.

A special Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao, which was not scheduled to assemble today, sat in courtroom 1 today to take up for hearing a matter of "public importance relating to medical assistance to prisoners.".

The Court observed that the overcrowding in prisons across the country posed a risk during the ongoing health crisis. It said that while the government of India has issued advisory for maintaining social distance, the prisons in our country remain to be overcrowded.

While the Government of India advices that social distancing must be maintained to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus, the bitter truth is that our prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing.
Supreme Court

Thus, the Court issued show cause notices to prison authorities and heads of social welfare departments of all states and union territories to show why directions should not be issued for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of the COVID-19.

The Court has sought suggestions from all states for measures that can be taken to prevent possible spread of the COVID-19 among prisoners as well as juveniles lodged at remand homes.

This opportunity may be used to take steps pertaining to infrastructure facilities in prisons to bring down the problem of overcrowding, the Bench noted. In its order, the Court also highlighted the need for taking preventive steps to prevent spread of the novel corona virus in prisons.

"Studies indicate that contagious viruses such as COVID-19 virus proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons. Studies also establish that prison inmates are highly prone to contagious viruses. The rate of ingress and egress in prisons is very high, especially since persons (accused, convicts, detenues etc.) are brought to the prisons on a daily basis," the Court said further pointing out that various correctional officers and such who coome in contact with the prisoners may also therefore bwcome susceptible to contracting the virus from a carrier or an infected person.

When Attorney General for India KK Venugopal suggested that the Court issue guidelines for now, the Court said that it would seek suggestions from the states first.

The Court has fixed the next date for hearing on March 23, and has sought responses by March 20.

It further added that written submissions may be submitted by the respondents first, and that authorized persons designated by the states may be present in Court only when called upon to do so.

Read Order

In Re Contagion of COVID19 virus in prisons.pdf
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