Bombay HC seeks data on pending bail applications from district courts

This order was passed in a petition filed by PUCL, raising concerns over slow pace of decongestion of prisons, and availability of health care to inmates


The Bombay High Court, on June 12, passed an order seeking pending bail applications with District courts in the state, in a petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The petition had been filed in May raising concerns over the health of prison inmates still lodged in prisons, in the light of the outbreak of Covid-19. The petition had sought certain directions from the court, such as, provision of sanitizers, masks to inmates and staff; to ensure inspection of prisons by health officers, provide monthly sustenance to inmates for buying food and daily essentials, providing frequent opportunities to inmates to communicate with family in absence of face-to-face visits, provision of proper healthcare mechanism in prisons, assigning health care workers to prisons; giving updates on health of inmates to their family and their lawyers.

The order

The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta also comprising Justice SS Shinde, on June 12, asked the ADG, Prisons to submit information on protocol being followed in correctional homes for testing of inmates who are asymptomatic and in direct and high risk contact of inmates. The court also asked the respondents to extend the permission of interacting with family members, to prison inmates, “We direct the ADG, Prisons to consider the desirability of extending the benefits of the circular dated February 12, 2019 to the inmates of the correctional homes, in the light of the fact that number of inmates may have been released on temporary bail in pursuance of the extant judicial/administrative orders and guidelines on the subject and that load of inmates in the correctional homes may not be that burdensome as in normal times. However, if the benefits are denied, the reason shall be indicated in the report to be filed in terms of this order.”

Lastly, the bench asked all District and Sessions Courts to submit to the court exact number of pending applications for temporary bail filed by the inmates of correctional homes from all over Maharashtra to avail the benefit of the recommendations of the High Powered Committee together with the dates of presentation of such applications, by June 15. The case will be heard again on June 16.

The complete order may be read here.

The Petition

Further, the petition had also sought a report from the respondents detailing measures taken by them for prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention; precautions and sanitisation procedures in prisons; protocol being followed for screening of the prisoners and staff; testing of inmates; procedures followed if any person associated with prison has tested positive; quarantine facilities; supply of medicine and availability of health care in prisons; and capacity and the present occupancy of all the prisons, numbers of inmates tested in each prisons and their respective results.

The petition also sought information on the number of persons belonging to vulnerable categories, such as prisoners above 50 years of age; children in conflict with the law in remand homes/shelter homes; prisoners with co-morbidities such as asthma, diabetes; prisoners with disabilities; pregnant women and so on.

The petition sought these directions on the grounds that the wellbeing of prisoners is the responsibility of the state government as they are under their custody and the family members of such prisoners are in dark about their well being since no information is being released. About the health crisis in prisons, the petitions said, “health care service within the prisons has been reported to be inadequate even under ordinary circumstances. Under the current pandemic it becomes even more pertinent to provide better health care services to prison inmates. Cramped accommodation areas, poor hygiene, ventilation and nutrition as well as insufficient health-care services in prison will equally undermine infection control measures and thus significantly increase the risk for infection, amplification and spread of COVID-19.”

The Petition can be read here.

Earlier order of May 26

The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta, had in its order dated May 26, addressed some grievances raised by the petitioner with regards to recommendations of High Powered Committee constituted by the state, outbreak of Covid-19 in Arthur Road Jail, communication of correctional home inmates with their family and issue of money required for sustenance of inmates. With regards to the recommendations of the Committee which stated that Correctional Homes should be decongested, the petitioners pointed out how 14,000 bail applications were still pending before various courts. To this court responded, “we are of the opinion that the relevant courts are not supposed to act as mere post-offices and allow applications without application of mind. We have no doubt in our mind that in the light of the guidelines issued by the High Powered Committee, the relevant courts, to the best of its ability and with the resources available at its disposal, have seen striving to take appropriate steps to dispose of as many applications for bail as possible in accordance with law and in the light of the guidelines of the Committee”.

To the rest of the concerns raised, the court entrusted the state with the responsibility of taking necessary actions and following through the same, without issuing specific directions. The court had, however, asked correctional homes to arrange for phone calls between inmates and their families until video conferencing facilities for communication can be commissioned.

The complete order may be read here.

Affidavit in response by respondents

On May 25, the Additional Director General of Police & Inspector General of Prisons & Correctional Services had submitted an affidavit in response in which it was stated that The authorized capacity of the Prisons in the State of Maharashtra is 20,4032 and as on May 23, it was at 29,762. “Although there is over crowding the respondent has taken necessary precaution to decongest the prison also followed the medical protocol in view of Covid-19,” said the response. The affidavit further said that the overcrowded prisons such as Authur Road, Thane, Yeravda, Nagpur, Nashik, Aurangabad, Kalyan and Byculla Prison had been locked down and that inmates were allowed to communicate with family through phone and video call. It further stated that the vulnerable category prisoners were kept separately and medical facilities were also being made available.

Rejoinder of PUCL

PUCL then filed a rejoinder in reply stating that the respondents had only provided partial information and information related to procedure followed if inmate is tested positive, availability and supply of medicines and other health care services and number of inmates in each prison, numbers of inmates tested in each prisons and their respective result was not provided at all. In the rejoinder, the petitioners put forth some new information before the court. The petitioners stated that deaths of inmates of Taloja and Yerwada due to COVID19 was not disclosed in public and sought a “consolidated weekly brief by the prison authority with information on the number of tests conducted, number of prisoners tested positive, number of deaths in prison and reason, no. of new entrants in the prison, medical staff condition, etc.”

The petitioners also highlighted the pending bail applications and the need to decongest prisons by releasing at least 18,000 prisoners on parole/bail, “it is important that all the prisoners eligible as per the HPC guidelines and other vulnerable prisoners on account of their age, health etc., be immediately released by way of temporary bail and/or parole. In addition, these applications can be listed as urgent matters for which dedicated courts could be set up to dispose of these applications at the earliest,” said the petitioner in the rejoinder. The rejoinder further reiterated the need for communication of well being of inmates to their families and not just of those who have been infected by the virus and also stressed upon the need for proper health care facilities in terms of supply of medicines and so on.

The matter is set to be heard again on June 16, when the bench will consider the report submitted by district and sessions courts on pending bail applications.


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