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MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni was on Thursday informed that the COVID-19 situation in prisons across Maharashtra has improved and that there are only 20 active cases of inmates, who have tested positive for the virus. The bench was further informed that vaccination of inmates is going on.

The bench had taken up a suo motu PIL over the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in prisons across the state. The PIL was taken up based on the coverage of the surge in Free Press Journal newspaper and other national dailies.

Appearing for the state, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the bench that to date a total of 2,706 inmates have been released on bail and 518 have been released under emergency COVID parole or furlough.

"The number of active cases among prisoners has come down to 20 and among staff is 26," Kumbhakoni highlighted, adding, "I can say there is a considerable improvement in the situation in prisons now."

The advocate general further said that the state has decided to amend the prison rules so that prisoners can be treated even in the civic-run hospitals which is presently disallowed. "The issue is before the law and judiciary department. By the next hearing, we will submit it before the court," Kumbhakoni submitted.

Kumbhakoni further submitted that the jail superintendents have written to the state home department urging it to instruct all police stations in the state to follow the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the famous Arnesh Kumar's case.

Notably, the SC had held that the police should be slow in making arrests in dowry and domestic violence cases and also in cases wherein the offence provides for less than 7 years jail term.

Meanwhile, Prof Vijay Raghavan from TISS told the bench that there are around four vacancies for the post of jail superintendents and the same aren't filled in yet by the state. He further pointed out that several posts of jailers and Rakshaks are vacant for months and years now.

"But all this would be dealt with during the matters of jail reforms. Presently we are only concerned with COVID management in the prisons so let's be focused on that," CJ Datta said while adjourning the case for two weeks.

As far as the contention that the population in jails continue to increase the bench ordered Raghavan to approach the High Power Committee led by Justice Amjad Sayed, which has been dealing with the issue of decongesting jails.

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