The Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra Government to vaccinate all accused persons above the age of 45 years immediately after their arrest, as per some media reports. Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said, “Persons above 45 years at the time of arrest to be sent for vaccination immediately if not already vaccinated”, reported LiveLaw.
A Division Bench also comprising Justice GS Kulkarni had taken suo motu cognisance of the Covid surge in prisons in the State and had directed the Government to file an affidavit on the issue and the measures undertaken by them.
During today’s hearing on April 20, it took several suggestions from the State on the steps that may be taken to prevent the further spread of the virus in the prisons, reported LiveLaw. It also said that it will consider passing a direction for shifting of prisoners, from one prison to another, without the requirement of a Court order.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni suggested that the government could undertake a fresh exercise to decongest all prisons. “What has happened is, in an earlier high power committee the applications for bail were collected and released to the Court and then decisions were taken. Now we will do this again. And milords may permit us to do so”, he said as reported by Bar & Bench.
Senior Advocate Mihir Desai, assisting the court in the matter has also suggested that for decongestion, old prisoners who were earlier not granted bail might fit into the new criteria, so their application must be considered. According to LiveLaw, he said, “High Power Committee could meet again to reconsider the eligibility criteria.”
The State, through AG Ashutosh, has also suggested temporary prisons. He said, “36 temporary prisons were created in educational institutions, empty hostels, classrooms, etc. last year. When the pandemic went down, Government had to give them back. State has now been able to take back 14 of them for setting up temporary prisons.”
According to Bar & Bench, the AG also suggested to the court that RT PCR test should be done immediately after arrest. “Police custody should continue until test results come before transferring prisoners to magistrate custody”, he said. Mihir Desai added that temporary prisons are also used as Covid Care Centres by prison officials saying, “Only after 7-10 days are spent by a new prisoner at such temporary prison, he/she is transferred to permanent prisons.”
Chief Justice Datta then suggested that prisoners can be tested twice, once after arrest and once before they are put in permanent prisons to not spread the infection. Finally, he also suggested that while conducting RT-PCR tests, if a prisoner is found to be above 45 years of age, he/she should be sent for vaccination immediately if not already vaccinated.
While taking suo motu cognisance of the situation in prisons, the Bench had noted that in the past few weeks, almost two hundred prisoners across 47 prisons tested positive as of April 14. “The 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,” read the order.
The order may be read here: