Twenty-three-year-old Amol Godbole was an inmate at Arthur Road jail facing a criminal trial for cheating before being acquitted a year-and-a-half ago. During his tenure at the jail, what intrigued him was that a large number of his fellow inmates were either HIV-positive or had tuberculosis (TB).
After stepping out of jail, he decided to file a right to information (RTI) petition in March, which revealed that 56 inmates in the prison were HIV-positive and another 22 had TB. Godbole says that his RTI was also driven by the scant attention jail officials paid to the inmates’ condition. The doctors in the prison have a common medicine for everyone coming with any kind of disease, he said. “During my time inside the jail, I have seen inmates suffering from TB and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). There was hardly any kind of medical attention given to them inside the prison,” he said.
Speaking of his experience of living in the jail, Godbole said, “Even if an accused gets an order from the magistrate court or sessions court, the staff inside the jail would give various excuses for not taking him to the hospital. It is just a method of extorting money out of them. The moment an accused offered some money, which could range from Rs1000 to Rs3000, they would make sure that the accused was taken JJ Hospital.”
The former inmate said that most of the accused could not even offer money to the staff as the guards take away a chunk of the money the accused get from their relatives. “I used to be on duty at the ‘mulakat’ (place inside the jail where the accused meet their relatives or friends) and I saw that each time an inmate got money, half of it was taken by the guards,” he added.
His claims are supported by his advocate Prakash Salsingikar, who also represents those accused in some high-profile cases in the city. Citing an example, Salsingikar said that on September 9, 2013, a court had passed an order to send an HIV-positive inmate to JJ Hospital for adequate medical care. But the patient was not taken to the hospital till February 2014. Even the hospital authorities had written to jail authorities in January 2014. Despite that, the patient was not taken to the hospital.”
Salsingikar continued, “There have been unprecedented delays in treatment. To receive treatment is the inmates’ basic right. The situation is getting worse day by day inside the jail. Two of my clients have TB and one of them is also HIV-positive.”
However, BM Bhosle, superintendent at Arthur Road jail, refuted the allegations. He said, “We always follow court orders. If by chance there is a delay in taking any accused to hospital, it is because of lack of staff in the prison. We keep TB patients quarantined in a separate barrack.” Bhosle rubbished the allegations of prison staff accepting money. “None of the staff has ever asked for or accepted money. These are false allegations,” he said.