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HC asks Maharashtra govt about ways to contain COVID-19 spread in prisons

The Maharashtra government on Tuesday informed the Bombay High Court that while prisons in the state have the capacity to house 23,127 inmates, there are currently 35,124 prisoners lodged in 47 jails.

HC asks Maharashtra govt about ways to contain COVID-19 spread in prisons


Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who appeared for the state, told the court that as on April 18, 188 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state.

Kumbhakoni made the submissions before a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni.

The bench had taken suo moto cognisance of newspaper reports about rising cases of COVID-19 in the state's prisons and concerted the issue into a criminal public interest litigation (PIL).

The bench on Tuesday posed a host of questions to the state about ways to control the viral spread in prisons.

The court asked if a large number of inmates could be granted emergency parole to decongest prisons and if those above 45 years of age could be vaccinated.

The bench also asked the state if it could ensure that persons who are arrested now, are administered COVID-19 tests and produced before the magistrate only if they test negative for the infection.

It further sought to know if it would be possible for the state to inoculate the accused who are above 45 years of age.

The bench directed the state to respond to its queries and also come up with its own suggestions to reduce the spread of infection, by Thursday, the next date for hearing.

The court also permitted the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and its counsel, senior advocate Mihir Desai, to be impleaded as parties in the PIL to assist the court.

The PUCL had filed a PIL last year on the spread of coronavirus among prison inmates and staff.

Another bench of the Bombay High Court had at the time issued a slew of guidelines and standard operating procedures for prisons.

The advocate general told the court that a vaccination programme was already underway for eligible prisoners.

Inmates who had been released on bail or on emergency parole because of the pandemic last year, were still out, he said, adding that the state was going to start releasing eligible inmates on emergency parole again.

Last year, the state had constructed 36 temporary jails in educational institutes to decongest existing prisons and these had been dissolved when the situation improved, Kumbhakoni said.

However, the state is now reclaiming the temporary prisons and had acquired 14, he said.

Moreover, the state had decided that no new inmate will be admitted to a prison without undergoing COVID-19 test, the advocate general said.

The court also directed the state to inform if there had been a drop in the crime rate since April 14, when stricter COVID-19 guidelines were announced by the chief minister.

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