June 3, 2021 1:27:13 am
Following reports of dearth of medical workers, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Maharashtra government to consider allowing doctors from civil hospitals to visit jail hospitals regularly on rotation.
The prison department had recently issued a circular stating that doctors from civil hospitals should visit jails regularly due to shortage of healthcare workers.
While asking the state to prioritise vaccination of inmates over 45 years of age, the court also asked the government what measures were being taken to address the issue of first-time offenders who have resorted to crime after losing jobs.
Appreciating measures taken by the prison department to decongest jails, the HC suggested that more temporary jails should be set up.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a suo motu PIL filed on the basis of news reports highlighting the rise in Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra jails.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told HC that prior to the May 11 meeting of the state high-powered committee set up to formulate measures to decongest jails – whose decisions were to be implemented from May 12 – 1,201 prisoners had been released on interim bail or emergency parole. After the new guidelines were issued by the committee, 2,449 prisoners had been released.
Kumbhakoni said the number of active cases among prisoners has come down substantially from 311 before May 12 to 114 after that. He added that active cases among prison staffers had also come down from 107 to 50 during this period.
The state told HC said that of the 33,832 prisoners across state, 4,359 were vaccinated after May 12 and 2,208 prisoners earlier. Also, while 3,598 jail staffers had been vaccinated after May 12, 3,217 were immunised before that.
With Professor Vijay Raghavan – member of Centre for Criminology and Justice in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who is assisting the court in the PIL – informing the court that the prison department circular is not being followed diligently, the HC asked that deans of civil hospitals to abide by it.
“Can there be an arrangement of visitor doctor who could go for two hours? You have so many doctors, send them on rotation,” HC asked the state. “The frequency of visit of doctors should increase and this decision (circular) should be properly implemented…,” it added.
While asking the state to file a response on first-time offenders who indulged in crime after losing their jobs, the HC said: “There could be first-time offenders, driven by penury, to commit offences. Putting them in jail is not going to solve any problem…”
The HC will hear the case next on June 10.
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