COVID-19: NHRC notice to Maha Chief Secy over 'wrong interpretation' of SC order on releasing prisoners

New Delhi [India], May 15 (ANI): The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognisance of a complaint that the Maharashtra government has adopted an "inappropriate approach" about the release of prisoners, which may lead to infecting many prisoners with COVID-19.

The complaint has been filed by the Commission's Prison Monitor, Maja Daruwala.

"Allegedly, the policy adopted by the Maharashtra government to decongest jails has arisen due to misinterpretation of directions given by the Supreme Court in the matter. Allegedly random tests were conducted on 144 prisoners in the Arthur Road Jail, 103 were found positive including 26 members of the staff. The complainant has requested the intervention of the Commission to ensure the well-being of the prisoner. Several suggestions have been given in her communication," read a statement from NHRC.

The Commission has observed that it is aware of the fact that in many jails, the prisoners, as well as the staff members, have fallen prey to COVID-19 "due to overcrowding, lack of manpower and medical facilities."

Accordingly, it has sent a copy of the complaint to the Chief Secretary and the DG (Prisons), Maharashtra calling for a detailed report in the matter within four weeks.

The NHRC stated that the report should be submitted in a format giving details of all the jails in Maharashtra mentioning capacity of the jail, number of prisoners presently lodged, number of prisoners found positive for COVID-19, number of prisoners kept under quarantine, number of prisoners died due to COVID-19 and steps being taken by the state prison authority to ensure the safety of the prisoners, and the personnel working at the jails across the state.

According to the complaint on March 23, the Supreme Court has directed all the States and UTs to constitute a high powered committee to decide which class of prisoners will be released in order to decongest the jails by way of bail or parole. The directions have been given due to spread of COVID-19 inside various jails and to maintain social distancing, at the maximum.

NHRC stated, "She has mentioned that 60 jails in Maharashtra have 36,000 inmates against the available capacity of 24,095. Only, the Yerwada Central Prison in Pune, which is one of the largest prisons of the state, houses over 6,000 inmates against available capacity of 2,500. It is also mentioned that a large number of posts are lying vacant in these prisons, including medical staff." (ANI)