Observing that a prisoner continues to be a human even if imprisoned by a court order, the Bombay High Court on Thursday ordered the Maharashtra prison authorities to implement all the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical and Research (ICMR) in letter and spirit to ensure safety of all inmates. The HC has also ordered the government to conduct random testing and screening of inmates.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik said, "It is well settled that right to life, enshrined under the Constitution of India means something more than survival or animal existence. It would include the right to live with human dignity."
"It is also established that even where a person is convicted and imprisoned under the sentence of court, he does not lose all the fundamental rights belonging to all persons under the Constitution. The prisoner remains a human being notwithstanding his imprisonment and would be entitled to minimum human rights," the CJ observed.
The observation was made while disposing of a bunch of PILs, filed through senior counsel Mihir Desai, highlighting the sorry state of affairs in prisons across Maharashtra for treating inmates, who have tested positive for corona.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the state government, however, assured the bench that the state prison authorities would follow the guidelines issued by the ICMR, the Union as well as state governments, in the case of high-risk prisoners.
"Thus, it is not possible for us to substitute our opinion in matters of state which are in the realm of policy based on the opinion of the experts. Even as regards the safety measures to be adopted in respect of the health and hygiene of the inmates and also the hygiene in the prisons, we are satisfed with the assurance of the AG, that the state would abide by the various guidelines issued by ICMR," the judges said, while accepting the AG's statement.
"We are satisfed with the measures the state proposes to undertake for inmates who are above 60 years of age. These prisoners are kept together in the same barrack or circle in the correctional home so as to enable the prison authorities to effectively monitor them. There is, thus, no reason for us to interfere," said CJ Datta.
The bench further took note of the fresh guidelines issued by the state on June 2, providing for examination of inmates at regular intervals and a suspect, if any, to be sent for testing.
"Instructions have been issued for sanitising the residential areas of the inmates. Inmates above 30 years of age are to be examined for any other comorbidities. These guidelines also provide for precautions to be taken in respect of the inmates who are recently lodged," the judges noted.
The guidelines also deal with the sanitisation and hygiene protocol to be followed in the kitchen area and toilets and the frequency of the sanitisation thereof, at regular intervals.
Having noted the guidelines, the bench said, "We find these guidelines to be comprehensive in nature and are required to be scrupulously followed by the correctional homes and temporary prison facilities. We are of the opinion that as it is a matter of health and well-being of the inmates, the guidelines of the ICMR need to be followed even in respect of the temporary prisons, without compromising security concerns in any manner."
"Any deviation from the guidelines issued by the ICMR in respect of the temporary prisons can only be on account of security concern or under some exceptional circumstance. We may, however, hasten to add that whenever an inmate shows signs of any physical discomfort or complains of such discomfort like cough, cold etc. such an inmate should be immediately tested," the bench said.
The judges further ordered the authorities to deploy adequate staff at prisons, temporary jails and even quarantine centres.