Bombay HC seeks details of doctors, paramedics available in jails
The Bombay high court (HC) has asked Maharashtra prison authorities to provide details of availability of qualified medical staff and health workers in prison hospitals after it was informed of deaths of prisoners and jail staff in the second wave of Covid-19 in the state. The query was prompted after the court was informed that the Taloja Central prison had only three Ayurvedic doctors inside the jail hospital.
The court further sought to know from the Centre and state as to whether having Aadhaar card was mandatory requirement for prisoners to be eligible for vaccination and also took note of suggestions by People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) to ask the state level high-power committee (HPC) to convene a meeting and decide on relaxing its guidelines further to decongest jails.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni, while hearing the suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) instituted after taking cognisance of a news report that the number of Covid positive cases among prisoners and jail staff had gone up from 47 to 200 in a month during the second wave, was informed by advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that various measures had been initiated to safeguard prison inmates.
He submitted that only 244 prisoners and 170 jail staff were currently undergoing treatment for Covid-19 from among the 35,000 prisoners across all jails in the state. He further submitted that school and hostel premises that had been requisitioned earlier for setting up temporary prisons were taken over again to decongest jails. He added that around 64,000 repeated and random Covid-19 tests were conducted in prisons, as a result of which there were only three deaths from among the 35,124 jail inmates and staff in the last month.
The bench also asked the state about whether the jails had qualified doctors and medical staff stipulated by the Prison Rules, 2015 after it was informed that Taloja jail and hospital was being looked after by three Ayurveda doctors. The HC held that it was a serious issue and required to be attended to urgently.
Senior advocate Mihir Desai for human rights’ body PUCL informed the court that after May 2020 the HPC had not convened, and hence the court should direct it to meet at the earliest to review the Covid-19 situation in prisons and current population of inmates to further decide on release of prisoners to decongest jails.
With regards the Aadhaar card being mandatory for vaccination of prisoners, Prof Vijay Raghavan, member NGO Prayas and Centre for Criminology and Justice, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), informed the court that it was creating a huge problem for inmates and hence the bench should pass appropriate orders. The court then asked the Centre and state to respond, as the same was an important policy issue which would have pan-India ramifications.
The court then observed that Aadhaar card was important for identifying persons being administered the vaccination and for maintaining a nationwide database of vaccinations, hence if non availability of Aadhaar was an issue, registration camps should be held in prisons so that all eligible prisoners get a card and also get vaccinated.
Seeking responses from the authorities, HC posted further hearing to May 4.