On 2nd July 2020, the Bombay High Court accepted and disposed of various PILs stating concern with respect to providing proper facilities to prisoners lodged in various corrections homes during the times of Pandemic COVID’19.
These suggestions were given by various petitioners and have been accepted by the state. A Division bench comprising of Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice MS Karnik was informed by the Advocate General of Maharashtra with respect to the acceptance of the suggestion to conduct a random test of prisoners in jail. The court ordered the working authorities of prison to implement such measures. There were several important suggestions put by petitioners before the court through Senior Advocate Mihir Desai along with Advocate Isha Khandelwal.
Some of the suggestions accepted by the state are as follows: -
- The staff engaged with the correctional homes will be tested in the same manner as that of SOP.
- The staff member engaged in such correctional homes shall be posted in the present place of posting and they will not be rotated.
- The guidelines provided by the State Government, Central Government should be complied with.
- An email-id for taking an appointment for meeting their prison-clients shall be notified soon on the website of the Prison Authorities.
- A session will be conducted by Prison Authorities to educate the prisoners with respect to the prevention of hygiene due to coronavirus disease.
- The women prisoners will be provided with utmost hygiene facilities. Will be given free sanitary napkins and a proper way of disposal of such napkins will be ensured by the authorities.
- A telephone facility will be given to all the prisoners as that is done in regular correctional homes.
- The prison authorities will inform their family members with respect to their transfer of the prisoners to temporary jails, quarantine centers, or COVID centers.
Moreover, Desai suggested that ‘High-Risk Prisoners’ shall be treated as per proper Standard Operating Procedure issued by the National Centre Disease Control for contact tracing of COVID cases. According to him, the state has not placed any record that how these High-Risk Prisoners will be indicated. However, AG Kumbhakoni submitted that various guidelines will be given by ICMR, Government of India as also the State Government will be complied with. The Court observed that: -
“It is not possible for us to accept the submission of Shri Desai that the definition of “High-Risk Prisoners” should be as per SOP issued by National Centre Disease Control (NCDC) for contact tracing COVID-19 cases. We cannot substitute our opinion for that of the experts in the field and direct the State Government to accept the definition of ‘High-Risk Prisoners’ as per the SOP issued by NCDC. Once the learned Advocate General has made a statement that the state will follow the guidelines issued by ICMR, the Central Government, the State Government, and its authorities in the case of High-Risk Prisoners, then 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.” AG Kumbhakoni told the court that it is not possible to immediately provide the above facilities due to such unforeseen situations and the challenges faced by the Government, but the resources given will be evenly distributed to all the concerned societies. Justice Karnik said-
“We do not find this submission of Shri Kumbhakoni unreasonable. In any case, we are satisfied with the measures taken by the State Government for the present. The state has accepted most of the suggestions of the petitioners during the course of this hearing. We, therefore, do not propose to issue any directions on this submission of Shri Desai. We may, however, hasten to add that whenever an inmate shows signs of any physical discomfort or complaints of such discomfort like cough, cold, etc. Such an inmate should be immediately tested.” Finally, the court said that it was State High-Power Committee constituted following the directions of SC to all the states and UNs to determine the class of prisoners and release then on temporary bail in the wake of Covid-19 as the jails are overcrowded. The Court remarked-
“The petitioners contend that the categorization by the HPC affects their rights. As noted earlier, the HPC has been constituted for a specific purpose by the Apex Court for decongesting the prisons for a specific period in view of the outbreak of the present pandemic and thus it is for the HPC to determine the categories in the light of the observation of the Supreme Court. We are afraid that the case put forth by the petitioners is not in the nature of transgressing any constitutional right or statutory prescription.” It further directed that the state shall fully comply with the directions issued in the interim orders passed in the matter and noted that the suggestions made by the petitioners have been accepted by the state and their compliance be ensured by the Advocate General on their behalf. The court disposed of the PILs and dismissed one PIL filed by the Advocates Devmani Shukla and Nikita Abhyankar [READ JUDGEMENT]