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Prison in a very sorry state of affairs: Bombay HC takes note of low COVID-19 test rate, insufficient space for quarantine in prisons

The High Court was informed that four deaths had occurred in the prisons and that the swab samples collected after their death revealed that they were suffering from COVID-19.

Aishwarya Iyer

The Bombay High Court yesterday noted that the prisons in the state reflected a very sorry state of affairs amid the COVID-19 pandemic while taking note of the Report submitted by the ADG (Prisons) on the Court's order (PUCL and Anr v Union of India).

The report filed by the Additional Director General of Police and Inspector General of Prisons and Correctional Services, Maharashtra was submitted in compliance to the previous order wherein they were asked to furnish information regarding the protocol being followed for the testing of inmates.

"The report of the ADG (Prisons) reveals a very sorry state of affairs. Four inmates of correctional homes, who were under-trial prisoners, have passed away while being lodged there. Swab samples collected after their death, revealed that the deceased were suffering from Covid-19."
Bombay High Court

The petitioner's counsel, Advocate Mihir Desai, pointed out from the report that the number of tests conducted among the inmates was abysmally low and needed correctional measures.

A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice KK Tated has now directed Advocate General AA Kumbhakoni to obtain appropriate instructions from the prison authorities with regard to the testing and issues concerning insufficient space for quarantining those inmates who test positive.

The High Court also added that the collectors of various districts had to be encouraged to explore and identify spaces available for such quarantine.

Inter alia, the Court also directed for the following information to be provided on the next hearing:

  1. The number of under-trial prisoners presently lodged in all the correctional homes across Maharashtra;

  2. The number of inmates who are aged in excess of 60 years; and if they suffer from any diseases;

  3. The capacity of each correctional home for accommodating under-trial prisoners.

As far as the issue of wider interaction of inmates with family members was concerned, it was noted that the ADG (Prisons) had permitted the Superintendents of all correctional homes to purchase additional cellular phones to enforce the circular permittting the same dated February 12, 2019.

Pertinently, it was also found that not 11,857 applications but only 1,342 applications for temporary bail that are pending in all Courts across Maharashtra to avail the benefits of the High Powered Committee's recommendations for decongestions of prisons.

Seeing no reason to keep this issue pending, the High Court observed that all such pending applications should be disposed of as expeditiously as possible in accordance with the law.

The matter will be heard next on June 19.

Read the Order here:

Peoples Union Civil Liberties & Anr. v Union of India order dated June 16.pdf
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