FPJ Impact: Bombay HC takes suo moto cognizance of sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra's prisons

Mumbai: Taking cognizance of the coverage of COVID-19 surge by The Free Press Journal, the Bombay High Court took a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) regarding the sudden spike of COVID-19 cases within the jails across Maharashtra.

A bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Chandrakant Bhadang, referred to FPJ's coverage on Covid surge in jails, and ordered the state government to spell out the present status of infected inmates and even the jail staff. The HC has also called for a detailed response on how the state proposes to deal with the present surge in jails.

"Newspaper reports, more particularly, the Free Press Journal (dated 16 April 202) have highlighted an alarming rise in the COVID-19 cases in the last few days in the prisons in Maharashtra. It is reported that almost two hundred prisoners amongst 47 prisons in the State have tested positive as of 14 April, 2021," the bench noted.

"This number has gone up from 42 to 200 within nearly a month. It is stated that eighty-six staff members working in the prisons have also tested positive," the judges noted further.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni appearing for the state told the judges that similar PIL was taken up in July last year and was disposed of with certain directives.

"The reports however show a sudden rise of the COVID-19 cases in the State prisons, indicating a need for the Court’s intervention to revisit the measures. This is a fit case where the Court should take note of this situation and take up the cause in the public interest," the bench clarified.

Earlier, Maharashtra prisons, which faced the brunt of COVID-19 last year, has stated that 198 prisoners across 47 prisons in the state have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday. 86 prison staff too have tested positive and are either undergoing treatment or are in quarantine.

The maximum number of cases were reported from Yerwada prison in Pune where 31 inmates and 11 prison staff were tested positive for the virus followed by Kohlapur with 29 inmates, Thane Central Prison with 26 inmates and Arthur Road prison in Mumbai with 18 inmates who tested positive. 15 inmates at Nashik Central Central Jail, 10 inmates at Nagpur Central Jail were the other prisons where the COVID-19 patients had touched the double-figure.

The judges accordingly made the state's home department, revenue department, the director-general of police, director general of prisons as respondents to the PIL. While posting the matter for further hearing, the bench ordered these authorities to spell out the present status of Covid infections across the state's prisons.

"Let the respondents furnish information on the status of the COVID-19 cases, both the staff members and the inmates in the prisons in Maharashtra; the measures being taken and proposed to be taken to control the spread of the Virus in the prisons; and measures to decongest the jails in the State," the bench ordered while adjourning the matter for a detailed hearing on April 20.

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