The Gauhati High Court on Thursday (23 July) registered a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue of rising cases in Assam prisons. In its order, the Court has acknowledged the fact that in various jails (in the state of Assam), several Covid-19 positive cases have been detected.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Manish Choudhury ordered the Assam government to provide the best treatment to prisoners who have tested positive for the Coronavirus.
The bench highlighted that the present PIL which has been registered suo-motu, "seeks indulgence of the Court in view of (the) serious and grave situation in the jails in the State of Assam."
Expressing concern over the issue, the court also noted that recently the District and Sessions Judge, Nagaon has also sent a communication to the effect that 48 out of 79 jail inmates who were tested by rapid antigen test (for Covid-19) on 21.07.2020 have been tested Covid-19 positive apart from another 5 jail inmates already tested Covid-19 positive.
The court impleaded State of Assam (Rep. by the Addl Chief Secretary Home and Political Deptt), the Inspector General of Prisons (IGP), Assam and the Superintendent Central Jail, Guwahati as respondents.
Most importantly, the court ordered the Inspector General of Prisons, Assam to file an affidavit clearly indicating:-
(i) How many Covid-19 positive cases have been detected in each of the jails?
(ii) What were the precautions taken before the inmates were detected Covid-19 positive?
(iii) What are the steps being taken for disinfecting the jails and giving treatment to the jail inmates?
(iv) How many Covid-19 positive cases are asymptomatic; and symptomatic, in each of the jails separately?
'Some person from outside has been a carrier and has transmitted the disease within jails'
The bench observed,
"The Jail Manual mandates restricted entry in the jails. The persons confined in jails are either under trial prisoners; or convicts, after conviction. Either way, the entry in the jail is restricted and only the authorized personnel are allowed to enter jails. Prima facie it becomes evident that some person from outside has been a carrier and has transmitted the disease within jails. Appropriate precautions and measures were not taken to avoid (the) spread of the virus in the jails."
The court directed that the best of the measures available with the State of Assam, be employed to give qualitative treatment to the jail inmates across the State so that no further damage is caused.
Further, it was also directed by the court that the persons/prisoners who have not been detected Covid-19 positive be segregated and be maintained as such so that the disease is not transmitted to them.
The court also directed the government of Assam that "all the jail inmates in the State of Assam be tested for Covid-19." In any case, the court has asked the Government to apprise it of the results thereof.
The court also made it clear that in case the affidavit on each of the points is not filed on or before the next date of listing, the court is likely to impose an exemplary cost to be deducted from the salary of the officer who is found responsible in causing delay in process of the court.
The matter has been listed for hearing on September 8.
It is noteworthy that 'The Indian Express' reported on Tuesday (21 July), quoting an unidentified official of the Guwahati Central Jail in Assam that Sharjeel Imam has tested positive for the Coronavirus.
For the uninitiated, Activist Sharjeel Imam is a PhD student from JNU who did his Masters from IIT Mumbai and he was arrested by Delhi police over his alleged inflammatory speeches during protests against CAA-NRC.
Similarly, Assam activist Akhil Gogoi, who was lodged at the Central jail in Guwahati, had also tested positive for the Coronavirus (on 11th July).
According to online news portal Scroll.in , Assam Inspector General of Prisons Dasarath Das had told Scroll.in that, the Gogoi had tested negative earlier in an antigen as well as the confirmatory RT-PCR test but tested positive on 11th July in an antigen test.
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