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The First Bench of the Rajasthan High Court convened on Sunday hear a suo motu PIL registered based on reports that a huge number of prisoners in the State had tested positive for COVID-19, the largest group of 48 such prisoners being in Jaipur.
The matter was registered as a suo motu PIL on Saturday, and the State was directed to respond by the following day.
On Sunday, the State briefed the Bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Ashok Kumar Gaur of the sequence of events preceding the finding of prisoners having tested positive for the virus.
Further, a note submitted by the State placed on record various measures put in place to curb the further spread of the virus in prisons.
The Court was also appraised that the Government of Rajasthan has created a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for prison admissions, which involves testing the prisoner for COVID-19 before admitting the prisoners into jails and special isolation measures before being sent to general wards within the prisons.
Taking note of these submissions, the Bench on Sunday has issued the following directions to ensure that high standards of care are maintained for jail inmates in the State, i.e.:
As part of the COVID-19 SOP for jails, the State Government is also to incorporate requirements for having an accused being tested by local medical authorities for COVID-19. If the test is found negative, only then allow such accused person to be remanded to jail custody/police custody.
After the accused is tested prior to his/her entry into the jail premises or police custody, the SOP requires that the accused spend a period of 21 days in Isolation Ward segregated separately from the General Ward for inhabitants of the jails. The Court has directed the jail authorities to ensure that prior to releasing such prisoners from isolation, they must be once again checked by local medical authorities to verify whether that prisoner has developed any symptom of COVID-19.
At this point, the RT-PCR test is also to be conducted to cover a possible asymptomatic prisoner. Once such clearance is obtained from the medical authorities, the jail authority may shift such prisoner or under-trial to the General Ward.
The jail authorities who are in direct contact with such prisoners in isolation also require special attention to ensure that such virus is not transmitted to them or their families, the Bench noted. Therefore, it has directed that authorities ensure the testing of jail staff and their family members on a regular random basis, at least fortnightly.
The medical officers of each district shall inspect the Isolation Wards in the jails. They should also suggest the jail authorities to take out whatever steps may be necessary for maintaining cleanliness and sanitization necessary for keeping such persons in the Isolation Wards.
Jail doctors must be made available for checking the prisoners in Isolation Wards for their general checkup on day-to- day basis. The jail doctors shall ensure visit to the Isolation Wards and checkup of the prisoners in such wards everyday and record the same.
The Court has also added that the additional guidelines brought out by the Central Government and the Rajasthan Government, and the suggestions made by the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority regarding the maintenance of cleanliness in jails should've followed.
Having issued these directions, the High Court has also directed that their compliance be checked and reported back to the Court through special committees consisting of (i) Secretary of the District or Taluk Legal Services Authority; (ii) CMHO and/or its representative; and (iii) President or Secretary of the local Bar Association.
This team is to visit each jail within their respective districts and verify the status of each jail with respect to compliance of the measures put in place by the Government authorities and others for public health.
The Court has directed that all the reports be collated and submitted before the Court by May 22, when the matter will be taken up next.