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COVID-19: Social activist moves SC seeking necessary arrangements for prisoners above 70 yrs

By Suchitra K Mohanty | Updated: Jun 19, 2021 23:00 IST

New Delhi [India], June 19 (ANI): Renowned social activist Medha Patkar has moved the Supreme Court seeking uniform directions to the respondents, including the Union of India (UOI) to make appropriate and necessary arrangements so as to safeguard the interests of the elderly prisoners who are above the age of 70 years in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19 infection.
Patkar has filed the petition, a copy accessed by ANI, before the Supreme Court through lawyer and Advocate On Record (AOR) Vipin Nair.
The petitioner, Patkar, filed the petition before the apex court, and sought that the respondents, particularly the UOI, should be directed to take immediate steps including the release of prisoners above 70 years of age either on interim bail or emergency parole to ensure and safeguard the interest of the elderly prisoners incarcerated for years together in the prisons across the country.
Patkar, in her petition, also sought a direction that the UOI and other respondent parties, in the alternative, be directed to ensure that those of elderly prisoners who are not willing to avail the temporary release are shifted to the most uncongested prisons and if possible, open prisons with adequate medical facilities.
"Unless the aged prisoners are given special treatment and are considered for being released either on interim bail or emergency/special parole, the possibility of them being exposed to the infection and ultimately succumbing to the virus is very high," Patkar, in her petition filed before the Supreme Court, said.
The release of elderly prisoners, irrespective of the nature of the offences, is necessary and at the same time feasible for practical reasons and should not in any manner pose any law and order difficulties, she said.
The plea stated that this Court by its Judgment on September 22, 2020, had upheld the criteria of demarking the prisoners, adopted by the High Powered Committee (HPC), for the purpose of decongesting the overcrowded prisons in the State of Maharashtra.It, however, clarified that given the changed scenario with a sudden surge of cases in the second wave, this Court had once again directed every state to constitute HPCs to reconsider the guidelines issued by it, through its order on May 7, 2021, in a suo motu petition.
The HPCs have once again failed to make any provision for the betterment of the aged prisoners and their requirement of special attention, the petition filed by Patkar, before the Supreme Court said.
Keeping in mind these factual backgrounds and the position adopted by the different HPCs of the States in dealing with the conditions and plight of the aged /elderly prisons, with a view to protect the Right of Health enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India of such prisoners, the petitioner has approached this Court to direct the appropriate authorities to pass necessary directions in the very urgent case.
The petitioner said that COVID-19 virus proliferated in the prisons like wildfire during the first wave.
"It is seen that the prison inmates including the elderly ones were highly prone to contagious viruses owing to several factors including overcrowding, high rates of ingress and egress of accused/convicts, officers, workers, lawyers, etc. on a daily basis, poor sanitary facilities and non-hygienic conditions," the petition said.
The prisons as anticipated had become fertile breeding grounds for incubation of COVID-19. Similarly, lack of medical staff in the prison hospitals have worsened the situation, it stated.
As per the Prison Statistics in India, 2019 published by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the sanctioned strength of the medical staff in prisons stands at 3,320, whereas the total number of prisoners confined in various jails across the country was 4,78,000 as on December 31, 2019, the petition said.
It further noted that the actual strength of the medical staff as on December 31, 2019, is only a meagre 1,962. The total expenditure of the prison budget on medical matters is Rs 89.48 crores i.e., 4.3 per cent of the total budget. (ANI)