Maharashtra government informed the court that it was to receive 2 lakh doses from the Centre by evening. The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked if some of those could be set aside for the jail authorities to administer them to prisoners.
The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the state government to consider allocating some vaccine doses for prison inmates, observing that they are also entitled to right to life.
The state government informed the court that it was to receive 2 lakh doses from the Centre by evening. The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked if some of those could be set aside for the jail authorities to administer them to prisoners.
“Two lakh doses is nothing but a drop of water in the ocean but can the state consider whether at least some can be given to correctional homes? They are entitled to right to life as well. We hope and trust that it can be considered to administer the vaccine to deserving category of prisoners,” the bench said after it was suggested that prisoners above the age of 60 and with co-morbidities should be considered on priority for vaccination.
The bench was hearing a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) based on news reports highlighting the alarming rise in Covid-19 cases in the last two months in Maharashtra’s prisons. So far, of the over 34,000 prisoners lodged across the state, 3,028 have been vaccinated. Among the prison staff, 3,532 have been vaccinated. While it was suggested that vaccination camps be arranged for inmates, the court said that it could only be done when doses are made available.
The court was also informed that after the meeting of a high-powered committee last week, 140 undertrials have been released on interim bail and 44 convicts have been released on emergency parole. The court was also informed that there are 351 active cases in prisons, an increase in 40 cases since last week. These include four cases where the inmates have been admitted to hospitals.
The court asked the prison department to identify the reason for the increase in active cases even as the numbers have been decreasing among staffers. Chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare informed the court that the process to fill vacant posts of medical and para-medical staff has been initiated and is likely to complete by mid-July. “It should be a continuous process. The moment there is vacancy, it should be filled,” the bench said.
Senior counsel Mihir Desai said that some urgency needs to be shown in deciding on the 12,751 pending applications seeking interim bail based on guidelines issued by the committee in 2020. Prayas director Vijay Raghavan submitted that vacancies of other staff including lab technicians, nursing assistants should also be filled. The court directed Desai and Raghavan to submit notes on suggestions to the department and adjourned the matter to June 2.
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