Along with voice- and video-calling facilities, jail inmates will now also have access to email communication with their lawyers with the prior permission of the superintendent of the jail. Responding to pleas raising concerns over Covid-19 outbreak across prisons in Maharashtra and inmates’ lack of communication with relatives and lawyers, the state prisons department Tuesday informed the Bombay High Court, through its draft modified guidelines that are yet to be implemented, that inmates will have email access as per the measures taken in prisons given the pandemic.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik was hearing, through videoconference, pleas moved by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), through senior counsel Mihir Desai and advocates Isha Khandelwal and Kritika Agarwal, and other petitioners, Geeta Bharat Jain, Archana Rupawate, and Devmani Shukla.
The bench was informed that the draft guidelines submitted during the earlier hearing had been modified after considering the recommendations of the petitioners as directed by the court.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni along with additional government pleader Jyoti Chavan informed the bench that draft guidelines were framed as per recommendations issued by the Central Government, Indian Council of Medical Research and the state health department from time to time. The state also said it had accommodated some of the recommendations made by the petitioners on coronavirus outbreak. Kumbhakoni said as some of the suggestions by PUCL were related to overall prison reforms and the Supreme Court was seized of a plea in that regard, so the state could not accept such recommendations.
The modified draft guideline stated, “Lawyers duly engaged by the inmates will be allowed to seek instructions from the inmates either via emails or by speaking to the inmate after getting an appointment via email, in that regard, from the superintendent of the concerned jail.”
The state prisons department also said postal correspondence with prisoners would be allowed in non-containment zones where postal services had resumed.
The guidelines also stated that relatives of symptomatic and asymptomatic inmates testing positive for Covid-19 will be duly informed. “Every prison authority, such as the superintendent thereof, shall update the family members of those inmates who are asymptomatic but turn out to be positive, as also those who are symptomatic, whether mild, moderate or severe, within less than 48 hours of the detection of the fact that such inmate has been infected with Covid,” it said.
On June 19, the state government had submitted a draft of modifications and told the court that collectors of 27 districts have declared 36 locations as temporary prisons and steps were being taken to declare similar places as temporary jails in other districts to decongest jails and that they would also be used as ‘quarantine centres’ and ‘Covid Care Centres’.
The state govt told the HC that there were 28,950 inmates in 60 jails across Maharashtra, including 22,588 undertrials and 6,362 convicts.
The bench asked the petitioners to submit their suggestions or objections before the next hearing and posted the matter to Friday, June 26.
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