The protection of health and welfare of the prisoners to restrict the transmission of COVID-19 have been taken by the State Governments.

 

 

CASE BRIEF: CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN PRISONS

Case no.- SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION(CIVIL) NO.1/2020

Court- Supreme Court of India

Bench- Hon'ble The Chief Justice S.A Bobde, Hon'ble Mr. Justice L. Nageswara Rao Hon'ble Mr. Justice Surya Kant

Decided on - 23-03-2020

 

 

  • Brief case and procedural history- 

  1. The court ordered states and Union Territories, to show cause why directions should not be issued for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of Corona virus (COVID-19) with regard to Prisons and Remand Homes. Several States and UTs have filed their responses detailing measures and initiatives taken while dealing with Corona virus (COVID-19) in respect of persons detained in Prisons and Remand Homes.

  2. States of Gujarat, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha and UTs of Dadar & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Puducherry have not filed their responses. The State of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and UT of Jammu & Kashmir, though have filed their responses with regard to the measures taken for prisons but have not submitted their response in relation to measures taken for juveniles in Remand Homes.

  3. These measures generally include creation of isolation wards, quarantine of new prisoners including prisoners of foreign nationality for a specific period, preliminary examination of prisoners for COVID-19, ensuring availability of medical assistance, entry points scanning of staff and other service providers, sanitisation and cleanliness exercise of prison campus and wards, supply of masks, barring or limiting of personal visit of visitors to prisoners, suspension of cultural and other group activities, awareness and training with regard to stoppage of transmission of COVID-19 and court hearings through video conferencing among others.

 

Issue :

  1. Whether adequate measures been taken for protection of prisoners for COVID 19 by the government?

 

Ratio of the court :

  1. The responses reflect that considerable measures for protection of health and welfare of the prisoners to restrict the transmission of COVID-19 have been taken by the State Governments.

  2. The court observed that State of Uttar Pradesh has constituted 'COVID-19 Special Task Force' in all 71 prisons comprising of the Superintendent, the Jailor, Circle Officer/Deputy Jailor, Medical Officer and One member of para-medical staff to monitor the prevention of transmission of infection.

  3. Also, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Maharashtra and UT of Ladakh have identified special groups of prisoners, which are more vulnerable such as old age prisoners with respiratory diseases etc. to infections for special focus and scrutiny.

  4. Looking into the possible threat of transmission and fatal consequences, it is necessary that prisons must ensure maximum possible distancing among the prisoners including undertrials.

  5. Importantly, Rajasthan and Jharkhand have taken measures to decongest the prison by transferring prisoners from congested prisons to other prisons where the number of prisoners is low.

  6. The court also observed that the High Powered Committee to determine the category of prisoners who should be released as aforesaid, depending upon the nature of offence, the number of years to which he or she has been sentenced or the severity of the offence with which he/she is charged with and is facing trial or any other relevant factor, which the Committee may consider appropriate.

  7. The court observed Having regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it has become imperative to ensure that the spread of the Corona Virus within the prisons is controlled

 

Decision held :

  1. Taking into consideration the possibility of outside transmission, the court directed that the physical presence of all the undertrial prisoners before the Courts must be stopped forthwith and recourse to video conferencing must be taken for all purposes. Also, the transfer of prisoners from one prison to another for routine reasons must not be resorted except for decongestion to ensure social distancing and medical assistance to an ill prisoner.

  2. We also direct that prison specific readiness and response plans must be developed in consultation with medical experts.

  3. The Undertrial Review Committee contemplated by this Court In re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, (2016) 3 SCC 700, shall meet every week and take such decision in consultation with the concerned authority as per the said judgment

  4. The Writ Petitions are dismissed as withdrawn with the aforesaid liberty.

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