The Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to take an appropriate policy decision to tackle the spread of COVID-19 at Arthur Road Jail in central Mumbai. 77 inmates and 26 personnel of Arthur Road Jail tested positive for coronavirus early this week.
Justice Bharati Dangre while hearing a bail application filed by Ali Akbar Shroff, one of the inmates at the prison, seeking temporary bail on medical grounds noted that the situation was precarious and in such a contingency, the state government and the policymakers should take a decision. "If it is true that more than 100 patients have tested positive in Arthur Road Jail, then it is for the authorities to ensure that other inmates, who are presently lodged in the jail, are not infected by the virus on account of overcrowding," the court said.
The HC further stated that authorities must remember that inmates have the right to a safe and healthy environment even when they were incarcerated. The court directed the state government and prison department to take appropriate steps.
"There is always a hope and expectation that the jail authorities are sensitive to the prevalent situation," the court said. The bench noted that there were several inmates above the age of 60 and others who suffered from ailments. "Under such circumstances, it is open for the state government and jail authorities to take an appropriate policy decision to tackle the situation to keep all inmates safe and ensure that they contain the spread of the virus in the jail," the court said.
In the hearing, Shroff's counsel Aabad Ponda had argued that the inmate suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure, and hence, needed to be kept safe to ensure that he does not contract the infection. The court, however, rejected Shroff's plea after noting that no imminent health impediment was reflected in his case.
On May 7, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that as many as 72 inmates and seven officials from Arthur Road jail in Mumbai have contracted coronavirus. The inmates who have tested positive were shifted to G T Hospital and St George Hospital for treatment.
The Home Minister stated that after the coronavirus epidemic broke out, the state government had isolated eight prisons in the state including the Arthur Road prison and ordered that no new person will be allowed to enter. Despite the precautions, he said that 72 inmates of Arthur Road prison were found to have contracted coronavirus after coming in contact with a cook who had caught the infection.
Earlier on Friday, 77 inmates of Arthur Road Jail who tested positive for novel coronavirus were shifted to a vacant building in Mahul in suburban Chembur to undergo quarantine, an official said. The 77 had tested positive after coming in contact with a cook who had got infected, the prison department official said, adding that 26 jail staffers have also been infected so far.