HC asks Maharashtra about steps to decongest prisons, vaccinate inmates

Court takes suo motu cognisance of newspaper reports on rise in COVID-19 cases in jails

The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Tuesday that currently around 35,124 prisoners were lodged in jails across the State and there were 188 COVID-19 cases among inmates and prison staff.

Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni appearing for the State informed a Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni that there were 47 jails across Maharashtra, and they had a capacity to lodge 23,127 inmates.

The Bench asked Mr. Kumbhakoni if a large number of inmates could be granted emergency parole to decongest prisons, and would it be possible to vaccinate those above 45 years of age?

The Bench further inquired if those arrested recently were tested for COVID-19 and then produced before the magistrate. The court also asked about the number of people arrested after the Chief Minister announced #BreakTheChain on April 13. The Bench wanted to know if arrangements could be made to produce undertrials through videoconferencing.

The AG said they were reclaiming the temporary prisons and had already acquired 14 of them. He said a vaccination programme had already been commenced for those eligible.

The HC took suo motu cognisance of newspaper reports on the increase in COVID-19 patients inside prisons.

The Bench directed the State to respond to its questions and come up with its suggestions by April 22 and posted the matter to be heard on April 23.

The HC allowed People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a human rights body represented by senior advocate Mihir Desai, to be impleaded as a party to the matter.

Last year, PUCL had filed a public interest litigation petition which sought the intervention of the court to decongest prisons in the State and had sought information on the health status of convicts and undertrials in the prisons.

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