The Maharashtra Home department on Friday issued a notification giving powers to district collectors in the state to take provisional possession of government or privately-owned buildings and designate them as temporary prisons, which can be used for isolating sections of prisoners to avert spread of infection among the prison population during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The proposal of giving such powers to the district collectors was under consideration of the state government. Even prior to the issuing of notification to that effect, some district collectors had already ordered possession of buildings outside the premises of the existing prisons and earmarking them as temporary jails.
On May 3, Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram has issued an executive order designating a currently unoccupied girl’s hostel in Yerawada area as a temporary prison. Till now, these temporary prisons were mainly being used for housing new inmates. The Home department circular on Friday paves the way for their utilisation as isolation facilities for prisoners who are already inside the main premises of prisons.
The notification follows detection of over 180 positive cases among the inmates and staff of Arthur Road Jail, and another case in Byculla Jail. One 82-year-old inmate from Yerawada Prison in Pune, who was isolated around mid-April following respiratory problems and died on May 9, later turned out to be Covid positive.
The state government has already announced that it is going to temporarily release over 17,000 inmates, which is half the pre-lockdown population of prisons in Maharashtra. Till now, of the targeted 17,000 releases, over 7,000 have been completed, including undertrials who have been released on bail and convicts who have been released on parole.
The notification has been issued in accordance with Section 7 of Prisons Act, 1984, which pertains to ‘Temporary accommodation for prisoners’ in case of overcrowding endangering safety of prisoners or an outbreak of epidemic disease within jail premises.
The notification reads, “The district collectors have been empowered to take possession of government or private buildings for their use as temporary prisons to stop spread of coronavirus inside the prison. The set for rules, terms and conditions for the management of these temporary prisons is to be issued by the Additional Director General of Police (Prisons and Correctional Services) of Maharashtra.”
An officer from the state Prison department said, “There is a possibility that more than one buildings in a district can be designated as a temporary jail if needed. These buildings will be utilised for isolation if some people show symptoms and a section of prisoners has to be isolated and tested. This will also make available more space inside the prisons for better separation. This will help take the load off of nine central prisons and individual district prisons.”
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