Mumbai, July 3: While disposing of a batch of pleas seeking various reliefs for prisoners in view of the Covid-19 outbreak in jails across Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court on Thursday accepted assurances made by the state government and directed it to conduct random tests of inmates as required.

The prison authorities were directed to refer for testing any inmate in case of physical discomfort and who shows symptoms of Covid-19, The Indian Express reported.

The court also asked the authorities to notify details of nearly 37 temporary jails it has formed across nearly 27 districts, which are also to be used as makeshift quarantine or Covid-19 care centres, on its website. The HC directed the state prisons department to implement all the measures it had suggested for containing the outbreak in prisons and other correctional homes through modified draft guidelines based on recommendations made by the petitioners.

The court observed that the inmates have right to life with human dignity and guidelines need to be strictly implemented for their well-being during the pandemic. “The prisoner remains a human being notwithstanding his imprisonment and would be entitled to minimum human rights,” it said.

Moreover, the High Court said that family members of the inmates be informed about their health status. “Every possible endeavour be made by the prison authorities to scrupulously follow guidelines issued by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Centre and state governments from time to time regarding safety measures and the standard operating procedures for wellbeing and precautionary measures of inmates be revised from time to time.”

The court also said that the temporary prisons, which are to be used as quarantine centres, should also follow ICMR guidelines and said that sufficient or additional staff be deployed at all the prisons, correctional homes and temporary prisons.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik passed a 40-page judgment, through videoconference, on pleas moved by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), through senior counsel Mihir Desai and advocates Isha Khandelwal and Kritika Agarwal, and other petitioners, Geeta Bharat Jain, Archana Rupawate, and Devmani Shukla. The court had concluded the hearing on June 26 and reserved its order.

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