HC asks jails to follow ICMR, other rules to contain virus

(Eds: adding court's observations)

Mumbai, July 2 () Saying that prisoners retain basic human rights despite incarceration, the Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Maharashtra government to follow the guidelines of ICMR and other agencies to safeguard them from coronavirus.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik passed the direction while disposing of a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) seeking safeguards for prison inmates in the light of the pandemic.

The government must conduct screenings, maintain hygiene and ensure social distancing in prisons and update the family members about health status of infected inmates, it said. Advertisement

The state's draft guidelines for prisons and correctional homes, submitted before the HC last month, mention these measures.

The guidelines are based on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Centre and the state government itself.

The draft guidelines also include some suggestions made during the hearing by senior counsel Mihir Desai and others representing the petitioners People's Union for Civil Liberties and others.
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In its judgment, the HC noted that the Supreme Court had observed that the issue of overcrowding in prisons was a matter of serious concern.

Therefore the state must take all the measures for the safety and hygiene of inmates in its prisons, correctional homes and the 36 temporary prisons set up across 27 districts to decongest prisons in light of pandemic, the HC said. "It is well settled that the right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution means something more than survival or animal existence. It includes the right to live with human dignity," the bench said. Advertisement

"It is now established that even when a person is convicted and imprisoned...he does not lose all fundamental rights," the judges said, directing the state to follow its draft guidelines.

The government should follow ICMR guidelines on testing and hygiene, create special covid care centres and quarantine facilities at the 36 temporary prisons, maintain records of health status of all the inmates and update them on its website, test all the inmates who show symptoms of coronavirus, inform the relatives of inmates who test positive, quarantine high-risk prisoners, conduct daily thermal screening of all the inmates, make special arrangements for those above 60 years of age or who have comorbidities, the HC said.

The authorities will allow all the inmates to get in touch with their lawyers through email and will provide video conferencing facility for talking to their relatives, the order said. Advertisement

The high court, however, refused to interfere with the state government's High Power Committee's (HPC) decision not to grant interim bail or parole to those arrested under acts such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

One of the petitions had sought that to decongest prisons, under trials booked under these acts too should be granted interim bail or parole. The high court, however, held that a prisoner can not claim a legal right to such relief. AYA GK KRK KRK
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