The Bombay High Court on Friday called for reports from each of the Principal District & Sessions Judges on the 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 for decongestion of prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice SS Shinde was hearing a batch of PILs with the main PIL filed by Peoples Union Civil Liberties regarding the plight of undertrials/inmates during the present crisis.
The Additional Director General of Police (AGP) and Inspector General of Prisons and Correctional Services, Maharashtra State has filed a report dated June 8, 2020. On perusal of the report, senior advocate Mihir Desai raised three points of concern:
i) In Solapur and Aurangabad Correctional Homes, 60 and 20 inmates respectively have tested positive; however testing of asymptomatic inmates has not been undertaken in terms of the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical of Research (ICMR) dated May 18, 2020. He prays for a direction on the prison authorities for testing of asymptomatic inmates, at the earliest:
ii) Although the inmates of the correctional homes have been permitted interactions with their family members by making phone calls of three minutes duration twice a month, there exists a circular dated February 12, 2019 issued by the prison authorities which has provisions for wider interaction between the inmates and their family members. He submits that the prison authorities may be directed to extend to the inmates the wider benefits flowing from the said circular dated February 12, 2019.
iii) As on Tuesday last, 11,527 applications for temporary bail are pending before the Magistrates/Sessions Courts, which tend to frustrate the spirit of the order of the Hon'ble Supreme Court dated March 16, 2020 as well as the recommendations of the High Powered Committee constituted in terms thereof; hence, prayer is made for direction to the Magistrates/Sessions Courts to expedite their decisions on such applications.
The court said that report of the ADG, Prisons shows that he is aware of the guidelines issued by the ICMR for COVID-19 testing dated May 18, 2020. It is also evident from a memo dated June 8, 2020 of the Director of Health Services, Pune addressed to the ADG, Prisons that he has been informed of the requirements of testing of inmates of correctional homes in terms of such guidelines of the ICMR.
The court noted, "Considering the further submission of Mr. Desai that even inmates of correctional homes have breathed their last after testing positive for COVID-19, we call upon the ADG, Prisons to furnish information on the following points:
(i) the protocol being followed in correctional homes for testing of inmates who are asymptomatic and in direct and high risk contact of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19; and
(ii) on the authenticity of the submissions of Mr. Desai that inmates have passed away upon testing positive for COVID-19.
The bench directed 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.
The court also said, "we consider it expedient to call for reports from each of the Principal District & Sessions Judges. The 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 as on close of working hours today together with the dates of presentation of such applications, shall be indicated in separate reports to be filed by each Principal District & Sessions Judge by close of working hours of Monday next (15th June, 2020) and the matter will be heard on June 16.
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