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After COVID-19 Outbreak In Mumbai's Arthur Road Prison, Several Prisoners Seek Release On Bail; Bombay HC Says Even Prisoners Have Right To Life

Nitish Kashyap
9 May 2020 12:48 PM GMT
After COVID-19 Outbreak In Mumbai
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As over 100 prisoners and staff members of Arthur Road jail have tested positive for Covid-19, it has created a panic amongst the inmates, especially those with a medical condition like hyper-tension, diabetes etc.

Justice Bharati Dangre on Friday heard several different applications filed by undertrial prisoners seeking bail on medical grounds.

One of the accused who sought release on medical grounds is 66-year-old Hemant Bhatt, who has tested positive for Covid-19 and is currently lodged at Arthur Road. Bhatt is an accused in the PNB bank scam and a key aide of fugitive Nirav Modi.

Bhatt is a chronic heart patient, has undergone by-pass surgery and is suffering from hyper-tension. On Friday, the Chief Medical Officer, Arthur Road, placed on record a medical report pertaining to the applicant Hemant Bhatt. It is stated that he was tested for Covid-19 and found to be positive. The report states that the patient is isolated in prison and detailed examination is not possible for other ailments.

Along with the said report, the steps taken to prevent spread of Corona in the prison are also highlighted. It is reported that as on date, 77 prisoners and 8 to 10 staff members of Mumbai Central Prison have tested positive for the virus.

Court refused to grant bail but observed-

"The situation warrants immediate attention. The applicant who has been informed to be in isolation, cannot be moved out at present, but at the same time, on account of the ailment with which he is suffering i.e. hyper-tension as well as chronic heart ailment for which he has been treated and is presently complaining of, he cannot be left with that to face the virus. It is medically reported that patients with hyper-tension and diabetes are more prone to be attacked by the virus in view of their low immunity and in such circumstances, it is directed that the Superintendent of Arthur Road Jail should take appropriate steps to treat the applicant for Corona and if advised to cater to by appropriate hospitalisation, if the situation so demands.

Similarly, the Superintendent is also expected to take proper care about the 77 prisoners who have been tested positive along with its staff so that the spread of the virus can be arrested. If necessary, and advised, they would have to be shifted to appropriate medical facilities, keeping in mind the factum that there are other prisoners who are closely located to the said prisoners."

Another case was that of 43-year-old Ali Akbar Shroff, who sought release on temporary bail as he is a chronic patient of diabetes, hyper-tension and high blood pressure and he also has a sinus problem requiring constant medical treatment and supervision. He is also lodged at Mumbai's Arthur Road prison.

His counsel Senior Advocate Abad Ponda submitted that the jails have become more vulnerable and 103 inmates and staff members have already been tested positive for Covid 19 at Arthur road prison. .

Justice Dangre observed-

"The situation no doubt is precarious and Mr.Ponda may be justified in making a statement that more than 100 inmates and staff of Arthur Road Jail have tested positive. In any contingency, it is for the State Government and the policy makers to take a decision in light of the latest development. If it is true that more than 100 patients have been tested positive in Arthur Road jail, it is for the Authorities to arrange for their affairs and to ensure that the inmates who are presently housed in the Jail are not infected by the virus on account of overcrowding in jails and need not be reminded of the Right of Inmates of a safety and healthy environment as even while incarceration they equally enjoy right to life as those in outside world."

However, Court also noted that there are inmates in the prison who are more than 60 years of age and presently languishing in jail and more prone to the virus as compared to the present applicant who has not placed on record any particular papers depicting the aggravation of diabetes and hypertension except that that he suffers from diabetes and hypertension.

It is open for the State Government and Jail authorities to take appropriate policy decision to tackle the situation to keep all the inmates safe and ensure that they shall stop the spread of virus in the jail. Since no imminent health impediment is reflected in case of the present applicant, application is rejected, Court said.

Following directions of the Supreme Court, the State government had constituted a High Power Committee for releasing prisoners on emergency parole or temporary bail. The committee has decided to release those who are accused in an offence punishable upto 7 years of imprisonment but those accused under special enactments like MPID, MCOCA, UAPA, NDPS etc will not be eligible to be released. 

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