77 inmates, 26 officials test Covid-19 positive in Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison outbreak
A day after a 45-year-old undertrial tested positive for Covid-19, 77 more inmates and 26 officials at Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison were on Thursday found to have contracted the disease, an Indian Police Service officer said and added the number of infected people was likely to go up.
The prison has a capacity to house 800 prisoners but it is housing 2,700. No new prisoners have been sent to this jail since the first week of April because of overcrowding.
The undertrial, who is facing charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, developed a high fever on April 30. He was taken to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital on May 2 after he suffered a paralytic attack. Samples of 150 people working in and lodged at the prison were taken for testing after the undertrial tested positive. “At least 200 more swabs were taken from the Arthur Road prison on Thursday,” said the officer. Two staff members who stayed at a guest house near the jail and had taken another prisoner to JJ Hospital, too, tested positive.
Jail authorities were yet to identify the source of the virus. The officer said the possibility of cleaning staff, sanitisation workers or essential service providers being the source cannot be ruled out.
The outbreak of the disease in the prison has led to panic among family members of the inmates. “Relatives of the prisoners have been asking us to file bail pleas. We have to explain to them that the courts are not entertaining any applications for bail in cases where punishment is more than seven years,” said lawyer Prakash Salingekar.
Chetan Banne, another lawyer, said he is filing a plea for an accused who has multiple cases registered against him. “The accused is desperate to be out on bail because of the condition at the Arthur Road jail.”
Former Supreme Court judge A K Sikri cited the Supreme Court’s order in April on decongesting jails and said it should be followed in letter and spirit.
Another retired Supreme Court judge, Madan Lokur, said the undertrial review committee should meet regularly and expedite the applications for release on bail. “The state and district legal services authorities should play a proactive role in ensuring the inmates are released,” said Lokur. He added section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code provides for the release of inmates, who have served more than half of their sentences.
Madhurima Dhanuka of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said it is a difficult situation and needs to be tackled on a war footing. “Preventive measures need to be taken to stop the further spread of the virus in jails...”
(With inputs from KAY Dodhiya & Charul Shah)