Supreme Court takes suo-moto cognizance on COVID-19 threat in prisons

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on its own motion, on 16th March 2020 observed that there is an imminent need to take steps on an urgent basis to prevent the contagion of COVID-19 virus in our prisons. If prisoners are tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, immediate measures have to be taken for their quarantining and medical treatment. Therefore, the Hon’ble Court has issued notices to the Chief Secretaries/Administrators, Home Secretaries, Directors General of all the Prisons and Department of Social Welfare of all the States and the Union Territories, to show cause why directions should not be issued for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of Corona virus (COVID 19) in the country, and further to suggest immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance to the prisioners in all jails and the juveniles lodged in the Remand Homes and for protection of their health and welfare.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

While the Government of India advices that social distancing must be maintained to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus, the bitter truth is that our prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing. There are 1339 prisons in this country, and approximately 4,66,084 inmates inhabit such prisons. (Para 4)

Like most other viral diseases, the susceptibility of COVID-19 is greater in over-crowded places, mass gatherings, etc. Studies indicate that contagious viruses such as COVID-19 virus proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons. Studies also establish that prison inmates are highly prone to contagious viruses. The rate of ingress and egress in prisons is very high, especially since persons (accused, convicts, detenues etc.) are brought to the prisons on a daily basis. Apart from them, several correctional officers and other prison staff enter the prisons regularly, and so do visitors (kith and kin of prisoners) and lawyers. Therefore, there is a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 virus to the prison inmates. For the reasons mentioned above, our prisons can become fertile breeding grounds for incubation of COVID-19. (Para 4)

There is an imminent need to take steps on an urgent basis to prevent the contagion of COVID-19 virus in our prisons. If prisoners are tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, immediate measures have to be taken for their quarantining and medical treatment. (Para 5)

Notices be issued to the Chief Secretaries/Administrators, Home Secretaries, Directors General of all the Prisons and Department of Social Welfare of all the States and the Union Territories, to show cause why directions should not be issued for dealing with the present health crisis arising out of Corona virus (COVID 19) in the country, and further to suggest immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance to the prisioners in all jails and the juveniles lodged in the Remand Homes and for protection of their health and welfare. (Para 6)

Copy of order: Order-16-March-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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