The Bombay High Court on Friday registered a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) case on the rise in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra prisons.
The Court initiated the suo-motu litigation based on newspaper reports, more particularly, Hindustan Times and Free Press Journal which highlighted an alarming rise in COVID-19 case in the last few days in prisons in the State.
The reports stated that “almost two hundred prisoners amongst 47 prisons in the State have tested positive as of 14 April 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.”
Advocate General Ashutosh A Kumbhakoni along with Chief Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare pointed out to the Vacation Bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and CV Bhadang that a similar case had come up in July 2020.
The High Court had then issued directions and the State had taken measures to deal with it.
The government told the Court on Friday that the current situation will have to be dealt with similarly.
The Bench, however, opined that the sudden rise of COVID-19 cases in State prisons indicated 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 Bench said.
The Court made the following parties respondents in the case:
- State of Maharashtra through the Secretary (Home Department),
- State of Maharashtra through the Secretary (Revenue Department),
- Director-General of Police, State of Maharashtra and
- Director-General of Prisons, State of Maharashtra.
The Revenue Department was also directed to be joined because of involvement of district prisons.
The Court directed the Respondents to place information on the status of COVID-19 cases of both the staff members and inmates in the prisons of Maharashtra before the next date of hearing.
They were also directed to inform the Court about the measures that were proposed to be taken or will be taken to control the spread of the virus in prisons and measures to de-congest the jails in the State.
The Court also directed the High Court registry to place the petition for hearing on April 20, 2021 before the bench hearing PILs, which is the Bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta.