High courts wade into congested, COVID-infected jails


High courts round the country have taken up the issue of growing COVID infections in jails of different states.

They have been bolstered by the Supreme Court order that certain prisoners who have served a long time could be released on parole to decongest jails, easing the work of jail officials to control the virus within the jail compounds.

Before that, though, testing would be needed to understand the extent to which the virus has infected inmates.

Gauhati HC

In Assam, the Gauhati High Court has ordered the testing of all jail inmates in the state. This is because, as the court puts is, “appropriate precautions and measures were not taken to avoid spread of the virus in the jails”.

The pandemic has resulted in a worrisome situation within all jails of Assam. Even the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission have also taken up the issue.

The Gauhati HC bench of Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Manish Choudhury on Thursday (July 23) asked the Inspector-General of Prisons, Assam, to come with his affidavit to court on September 8, detailing the number of COVID positive cases in each jail, the precautions taken before the inmates were found positive, steps taken for disinfecting the jails and their treatment.

The bench was acting on a suo motu PIL. The affidavit must also state the number of asymptomatic and symptomatic inmates in each jail.

Assam has 31 jails with 8,809 inmates. The capacity is 8,938.

Bombay HC

The issue of the release on temporary bail or parole in some jail inmates, as ordered by the Supreme Court was a matter of charity and was not a right of the inmates, said the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar on Friday (July 24).

The top court had asked for the decongestion of jails due to the fear of COVID infection in jails. A decongestion would allow the jail authorities to have space to quarantine infected prisoners, the top court felt. All jails in the country are filled way beyond capacity with convicted criminals and, more so, with under-trial inmates.

The bench lamented the capacity crunch in India’s correctional homes, while hearing a plea challenging the classification of prisoners to be released.

The plea was filed by the NGO, the National Alliance for People’s Movement, run by social worker Medha Patkar and others. The bench observed that “The COVID-19 situation is not to be taken advantage of by some quarters.”

–  India Legal Bureau

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