Case BriefsCOVID 19Supreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench of SA Bobe, CJ and LN Rao, J has taken suo moto cognisance of overcrowding and infrastructure of prisons across the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and has issued a notice to the Director General, Prison, and chief secretary of all states and union territories seeking their response by March 20 on steps taken for prevention of COVID-19. The court also asked all states and union territories to depute an officer on March 23 who could assist the court in the matter.

The bench also took suo moto cognisance of conditions in remand homes where juveniles in conflict with law are lodged. It observed that some states have taken steps for the pandemic but there are some states which have not taken appropriate measures.

The court also cautioned that mass gathering is a big problem and it can become a centre for the spread of coronavirus. The court also said it will issue reasons on why it has taken suo moto cognisance of the matter.

“there is an imminent need to take steps on an urgent basis to prevent the contagion of COVID-19 virus in our prisons. If prisoners are tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, immediate measures have to be taken for their quarantining and medical treatment.”

Stating that prisons can become fertile breeding grounds for incubation of COVID-19, the Court noticed that it was difficult to maintain social distancing as advised in places like prisons that are overcrowded. It said,

“Like most other viral diseases, the susceptibility of COVID-19 is greater in over-crowded places, mass gatherings, etc. Studies indicate that contagious viruses such as COVID-19 virus proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons. Studies also establish that prison inmates are highly prone to contagious viruses. The rate of ingress and egress in prisons is very high, especially since persons (accused, convicts, detenues etc.) are brought to the prisons on a daily basis. Apart from them, several correctional officers and other prison staff enter the prisons regularly, and so do visitors (kith and kin of prisoners) and lawyers. Therefore, there is a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 virus to the prison inmates.”

The Court also took note of the measures being taken by some States like Kerala and Delhi, where isolation cells have been set up to admit all the new prisoners before moving them to regular prison. Any prisoners suffering from COVID-19 symptoms will also be moved to these cells.

The Court, hence, issued notice in order to deal with the present health crisis arising out of Coronavirus (COVID 19) in the country, and further to suggest immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance to the prisioners in all jails and the juveniles lodged in the Remand Homes and for protection of their health and welfare.

There are 1339 prisons in India, and approximately 4,66,084 inmates inhabit such prisons. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is at 117.6%, and in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, the occupancy rate is as high as 176.5% and 157.3% respectively.

According to the Union Health Ministry, there are 114 cases in India so far, including two people who died in Delhi and Karnataka and 17 foreigners. Ten patients have been discharged.

[IN RE : CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN PRISONS,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 320, order dated 16.03.2020]

 

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: While addressing several important issues related to the deplorable condition of prison cells and absence of adequate number of jails with sufficient amenities and space, the Division Bench of A.S. Oka, and A.A. Sayed, JJ., issued direction to the State Government to carry out several prison reforms so as to improve the conditions of the jails.

The present petition came before the Court to challenge the communication dated 24th August 2015 issued by the Jail Superintendent of Yervada Central Prison to the President of the Pune Bar Association, which stated that the members of the Bar will be permitted to meet their clients in Yervada Central Prison between 9.00 a.m. to 10.a.m and 3.00 p.m to 4.00 p.m. Also the petitions highlighted the sorry state of affairs in the in Yervada Central Prison including the issue of the lack of proper facilities provided to the Prisoners to meet their relatives and Advocates.

Perusing the reports of the Judicial Officer appointed to review the state of prisons in Yeravada Jail and Arthur Road Jail in Pune and Mumbai respectively and Women’s and District Prison at Byculla, wherein it was stated that how the prisons lack in basic facilities like absence of separate toilets and bathrooms for male and female prisoners; bad quality of the food served and lack of beds for emergency services in the jail hospital and overcrowding of jails etc., the Court issued the following directions which must be brought to implementation by the Government within 3 months from the date of the judgment:

* State Government shall modify the impugned communication dated 24th August 2015 issued by the Superintendent of Yervada Jail.

* The State Government shall undertake immediate exercise of finding out Government lands where additional Prisons can be constructed in the Cities of Mumbai and Pune.

* State Government shall take a decision on the issue of number of toilets and bathrooms required in each existing Jail. The State Government shall ensure that separate bathrooms are made available to the women prisoners for taking bath in privacy so as to maintain the dignity of women prisoners and thereby protecting their fundamental right of privacy and dignity. The State Government must immediately order to construct sufficient number of additional toilets, and repair the dilapidated bathrooms in the Jails all over State.

* The State Government shall provide modern facilities to enable family members/relatives to meet the prisoners in all the Jails in the State including the aforesaid three Jails. The Government must also provide for Modern Audio System so that the prisoners and the persons interviewing the prisoners are clearly audible to each other.

* The State Government shall appoint a permanent Committee of Social Workers and Dietitians to make surprise visits to all Jails for testing the quality and quantity of food served to the prisoners as well as the cleanliness and hygiene in the kitchens in the Jails.

* The State Government shall make necessary arrangements to ensure that the women prisoners are able to meet their minor children. Also the Government must make arrangements for the benefit of the children staying with their mother.

* Principal Judge of the City Civil & Sessions Court at Mumbai or the Principal District Judge at Pune shall nominate Judicial Officers to visit the said Jails and to inspect the Jails in the context of implementation of the directions.

[Jan Adalat v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 239, decided on 01.03.2017]

 

High Courts

Madras High Court: Addressing the issue of providing separate lock-ups for women prisoners complete with all the basic amenities, the division Bench of S.K. Kaul, C.J. and M. Sathyanarayanan, J. laid down certain directions to the authorities concerned to monitor the issue and ensure the provision of separate prison cells.

The instant matter arose in form of two writ petitions praying before the Court to direct the respondents to implement the recommendations of the Board of Visitors constituted on the report of the All India Committee on Prison Reforms by providing separate lockup rooms for woman prisoners in general and in Villupuram District in particular, with all the basic amenities like sanitation and ventilation etc. and submit a compliance report in this regard. The respondents represented by S.T.S Moorthy and Sudha Ramalingam submitted before the Court that the State is committed towards prison reforms but still certain issues have not addressed. The petitioners were represented by P.K Rajagopal.

Perusing the submissions and taking the compliance report on record, the Court laid down following directions with respect to the issue:

  • The Tamilnadu State Legal Services Authority (TNSLSA) along with the Court Commissioner continuously monitor the prisons to ensure that reforms have been undertaken
  • TNSLSA would also file a tri-monthly periodic progress report till such time the Court is satisfied that monitoring is not necessary.
  • TNSLSA may examine the issue of requiring a Visitor’s Panel for every district.

The Registrar General v. Secretary to Govt. of Tamilnadu, 2014 SCC OnLine Mad 7422, decided on 28.10.2014