The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken cognizance of a complaint that the Government of Maharashtra has adopted an inappropriate approach about the release of prisoners, which may lead to infecting many prisoners with Covid-19. The complaint has been filed by the Commission’s Prison Monitor, Ms Maja Daruwala.
Allegedly, the policy adopted by Maharashtra Government to decongest jails has arisen due to misinterpretation of directions given by the Supreme Court in the matter. Allegedly random tests conducted on 144 prisoners in the Arthur Road Jail, 103 were found positive including 26 members of the staff. The complainant has requested for the intervention of the Commission to ensure the well-being of the prisoner. Several suggestions have been given in her communication.
The Commission has observed that it is aware of the fact that in many jails, the prisoners as well as the staff members have fallen prey to the Covid-19 virus due to overcrowding, lack of manpower and medical facilities.
Accordingly, it has sent a copy of the complaint to the Chief Secretary and the DG (Prisons), Maharashtra calling for a detail report in the matter within four weeks.
The report should be submitted to the Commission in a format giving details of all the jails in the State of Maharashtra mentioning capacity of the jail, number of prisoners presently lodged, number of prisoners found positive for Covid-19, number of prisoners kept under quarantine, number of prisoners died due to Covid-19 illness and steps being taken by the State prison authority to ensure safety of the prisoners and the personnel working at the jails across the state.
According to the complaint on 23.03.2020, the Supreme Court has directed all the States and UTs to constitute a high powered committee to decide which class of prisoners will be released in order to decongest the jails by way of bail or parole etc. The directions have been given due to spread of Covid-19 inside various jails and to maintain social distancing, at the maximum.
She has mentioned that 60 jails in the State of Maharashtra have 36,000 inmates against the available capacity of 24,095. Only, the Yerwada Central Prison in Pune which is one of the largest prisons of the State, houses over 6,000 inmates against available capacity of 2,500. It is also mentioned that a large number of posts are lying vacant in these prisons, including medical staff.
Press Release dt. 14-05-2020