A High Powered Committee (HPC), constituted as per Supreme Court directives to lay down rules to decongest prisons amid the pandemic, held a meeting Monday following the detection of 180 positive cases in Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai and the death of an inmate from Yerawada Prison in Pune. The committee is expected to suggest further measures to decongest prisons in addition to the ongoing release of prisoners on conditional bail or emergency parole.
“The meeting of the HPC was held on Monday and the committee was briefed about the evolving situation by the top officials of the Prison Department. Some further possible measures to decongest prisons were laid before the committee. The HPC may take further decision soon,” an official said on the condition of anonymity.
The HPC was formed in Maharashtra on March 24 to finalise guidelines under which inmates of prisons in the state will be released temporarily during the pandemic. On March 26, the Maharashtra government announced that at least 11,000 inmates – both undertrials and convicts who have been incarcerated for lesser and non-henious offences that attract less than seven years of maximum sentence – would be released either on provisional bail or parole.
Since the process of release started on March 28, more than 5,200 prisoner from 37 jails across the state have been released till Monday night.
Meanwhile, the process of release of undertrials is underway and the release of convicts on parole began after the state government issued a notification on May 8 amending existing prison rules. Till now, 435 inmates across the state have been released on emergency parole. In both these types of temporary release – bail and parole – the prisoners are initially being released for 45 days or till the state government withdraws the notification issued under the Epidemics Diseases Act, 1897 – whichever is earlier. The initial period of 45 days shall be extended periodically in blocks of 30 days each.
Over the past week, as many as 158 inmates and 26 staffers from Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai have tested positive. Before the release of prisoners began, the inmate population of Arthur Road prison was 3,718 as against the capacity of 804 prisoners, an overcrowding of 362 per cent.
On Saturday, an 82-year-old man from Solapur who was lodged in Yerawada Central Prison earlier, died from coronavirus and other co-morbidities. He had been isolated in the last week of April. A woman inmate from Byculla prison has also tested positive,
Since April 9, a complete lockdown of five heavily overcrowded prisons in Mumbai, Pune and Thane district – Arthur Road and Byculla Jails in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan in Thane district, and Yerawada Central Prison in Pune –has been ordered in the backdrop of rapidly-growing coronavirus cases in these areas.
Under the lockdown, no new inmates are being admitted to these prisons and medically examined prison staff has remained inside the prison till further orders.
Some more prisons have been locked down in the same manner since then.
Further, to accommodate the new inmates coming to jails across Maharashtra, buildings near individual jails are being identified where they can be placed in custody to avoid threat of infection to the inmates already inside prisons.
Death of 82-year-old Yerawada prison inmate
An 82-year-old inmate who was originally from Akkakot in Solapur district passed away on Saturday and his tests came back positive for coronavirus on Sunday. He died due to respiratory failure and also had history of tuberculosis. Prison officials said he had been suffering from respiratory problems and was sent to Sassoon General Hospital for treatment in mid-April. After his treatment, he returned to the prison in the beginning of May. But because the Yerawada Prison was on lockdown by then, he was lodged at the hostel in Yerawada, which has been designated as the separate temporary prison. In the temporary prison, he was kept in isolation. It could not be ascertained whether he tested for coronavirus the first time he was sent to Sassoon General Hospital.
On May 7, he was again admitted to Sassoon Hospital and passed away on May 9. An officer from Yerawada Prison said, “Even when he was inside the prison, he was being lodged separately because of health conditions. We have now informed civic authorities about the death and will further take action per the government directives, including tests of inmates and staff, if required.”