The Bombay High Court on Friday took suo motu cognizance of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in prisons across Maharashtra and directed the state government to provide details about the number of infections among inmates and prison staff and their health status.
The Division Bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and C.V. Bhadang observed, “Newspaper reports, more particularly, Hindustan Times dated April 16, 2021 and Free Press Journal dated April 16, 2021 have highlighted an alarming rise in the Covid-19 cases in the last few days in the prisons in the state of Maharashtra”.
“It is reported that almost 200 prisoners among 47 prisons in the state have tested positive as of April 14, 2021. This number has gone up from 42 to 200 within nearly a month. It is stated that eighty-six staff members working in the prisons have also tested positive,”
the Court said.
A.A. Kumbhakoni, Advocate General, informs us that the Court had taken up a similar cause in July 2020 where the measures taken by the State Government were noted and certain directions were issued.
The Advocate General said that the current situation will have to be dealt with similarly. The reports, however, show a sudden rise of the Covid-19 cases in the State prisons, indicating a need for the Court’s intervention to revisit the measures.
This is a fit case where the Court should take note of this situation and take up the cause in the public interest, the Court said.
The Court stated that the sudden rise in cases indicated a need for the Court’s intervention to revisit the measures, and directed the Registry to register the Suo Motu (Criminal) Public Interest Litigation under Rule 4 of the Bombay High Court Public Interest Litigation Rules, 2010.
The respondents include the State of Maharashtra through the Secretary (Home Department), Secretary (Revenue Department), Director General of Police, and Director General of Prisons.
“Let the respondents furnish information on the status of the Covid-19 cases, both the staff members and inmates in the prisons in Maharashtra; the measures being taken and proposed to be taken to control the spread of the virus in the prisons; and measures to decongest jails in the State,”
-the Court ordered.
The matter will be heard on April 20.