The Supreme Court on Monday underlined the dangers of any likely spread of Covid-19 among the prison population, given that the country’s jails were overcrowded, and said that it is ‘of the opinion that there is an imminent need to take steps on an urgent basis to prevent’ the same.
A bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao issued a notice to the Chief Secretaries or Administrators of all states and Union Territories, their Home Secretaries and Directors General of Prisons and Department of Social Welfare ‘to show cause why directions should not be issued for dealing with the present health crisis…’ They have also been asked ‘to suggest immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance to the prisoners in all jails and the juveniles lodged in the Remand Homes and for protection of their health and welfare’.
The bench issued the direction after hearing Attorney General K K Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Dushyant Dave, whom it appointed as Amicus Curiae in the matter. It asked the states and UTs to file their reply before March 20 and fixed March 23 to hear the matter next.
The bench, which took suo motu cognizance of the issue, said one of the suggestions made by the government to prevent spread of the virus ‘is to maintain social distancing, which is considered to be the most effective way’ to stop the spread. However, the ‘bitter truth’, it said, ‘is that our prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing’.
The court said, ‘There is a high risk of transmission of Covid-19 virus to the prison inmates’, and that for these reasons, ‘our prisons can become fertile breeding grounds for incubation of COVID-19’.
If prisoners test positive for Covid-19, immediate measures have to be taken for their quarantining and medical treatment, said the bench.
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