A two-member division bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Friday asked the additional director-general (ADG), prisons, Maharashtra, to submit a report on the protocol being followed in the state’s jails to test asymptomatic high-risk inmates, who have come in direct contact with coronavirus disease (Covid-19) positive prisoners.
The division bench, comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice SS Shinde, also sought to know from the ADG, prisons, about Covid-19 related fatality count of the inmates while conducting the hearing via video-conference facility because of the pandemic.
The court asked these questions to ADG, prisons, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Mumbai chapter of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), the largest and the oldest human rights organisation in the country.
PUCL has sought the court’s orders to provide information regarding the status of inmates’ health and the extent to which the viral infection might have spread among them, as they are lodged in congested jails across the state while pulling up the state government for a lack of transparency in voluntarily disclosing the details.
The human rights body also sought directions to ensure that inmates have ample access to personal protective equipment (PPE) items such as face masks, hand sanitisers, etc; for free of cost.
The petitioner also prayed for a report from the state prisons’ authorities regarding the precautionary measures being taken in the jails in their fight against the viral outbreak.
The court’s directions came after the petitioner’s counsel, senior advocate Mihir Desai, pointed out that though 80 inmates of Solapur and Aurangabad correctional homes have tested Covid-19 positive, the asymptomatic inmates have not been tested in violation of the guidelines prescribed by the Indian Council of Medical of Research (ICMR).
On Desai’s request, the court asked ADG, prisons, to consider allowing prisoners to interact more with their family members.
The court also took note of Desai’s contention that 11,527 applications for temporary bail were still pending in lower courts, which tend to frustrate the spirit of the Supreme Court (SC) order directing states to decongest prisons following the viral outbreak over the last three months.
The bench has called for a report from all principal district and sessions judges disclosing the exact number of urgent bail applications that are pending and the dates on which these applications were submitted.
The court will hear the case next on Tuesday.