Need to decongest jails to ensure social distancing: Maha to HC

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed magistrate’s courts to expeditiously decide bail applications filed by prison authorities so as to lessen the prison population in Maharashtra in view of coronavirus threat.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice K K Tated passed the direction after the state government told the HC that it had filed applications before magistrates seeking release on temporary bail of 14,400 prison inmates.

COVID-19 in prison

On Monday, the government submitted an affidavit stating that a prisoner each had died of COVID-19 at Yerawada, Taloja and Dhule prisons.

Inspector General of Prisons Sunil Ramanand also informed in the affidavit that three prison inmates in Dhule district prison were undergoing treatment for virus infection.

Earlier this month, 158 prisoners and 26 staff members tested positive for coronavirus at Mumbais Arthur Road Jail.

Therefore while prison authorities were taking hygiene and safety measures, they needed to reduce the prison population by at least 14,000 to be able to maintain social distancing, the state told the HC.

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The high court was hearing Public Interest Litigations filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and others seeking measures for the safety of inmates of Arthur Road and other prisons in the state.

“The state said it has a capacity of 24,000 inmates across all prisons in Maharashtra. However, at the beginning of the lockdown, there were 37,000 inmates lodged in these jails,” said senior advocate Mihir Desai, the counsel for PUCL.

“Around 8,000 have been already released on temporary bail, the jail authorities have made bail applications for 14,400 more inmates. We therefore urged the court to ensure these applications were heard and decided expeditiously and thus, the court gave such directions,” he said.

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Allow inmates to call relatives, lawyers: HC

The high court also directed jail authorities to allow inmates to call their relatives and lawyers once a week.

The authorities told the court that they will arrange video calling facility too, as inmates can not meet relatives due to lockdown.

The court has sought details of coronavirus testing facilities for inmates who remain in jails within two weeks.

The division bench also directed the state to inform the relatives of coronavirus positive inmates at Arthur Road jail about their health status.

Besides 158 positive cases at Arthur Road and three dead prisoners, 10 inmates in Satara, four in Dhule and one at Byculla central prison here tested positive for coronavirus, the state informed the court.

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