HC orders Covid test on all Assam prisoners
Gauhati High Court has ordered the testing of all jail inmates in Assam for Covid-19 because “appropriate precautions and measures were not taken to avoid spread of the virus in the jails”.
Besides the high court, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission have also acted on petitions highlighting the worrisome situation in Assam jails because of the pandemic.
Acting on a suo motu PIL, a division bench of the high court, comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Manish Choudhury, on Thursday also asked the inspector-general of prisons, Assam, to file an affidavit by September 8, the next day of hearing, indicating the number of Covid positive cases in each jail, the precautions taken before the inmates were found positive, steps taken for disinfecting the jails and treatment of jail inmates.
It must also state the number of asymptomic and symptomic Covid-19 positive inmates in each jail separately.
There are 31 jails in Assam with 8,809 inmates till Thursday against a capacity of 8,938 after these were decongested due to the pandemic following a Supreme Court order.
Inspector-general of police (prisons) Dasarth Das told The DSTV Darjeeling that they had tested 4,233 inmates till Thursday. “About 572 inmates have tested positive till Thursday, of whom 435 are from Guwahati Central Jail. A total of 212 have recovered,” Das said.
The number of positive cases in Assam has seen a sharp hike since June, crossing 29,000 with 70 deaths till Friday afternoon. Guwahati is the worst affected with over 12,500 cases.
In its observation on the “serious and grave situation” in Assam’s jails, the two-member bench said the inmates are either undertrial prisoners or convicts. Either way, entry is restricted and only authorised personnel are allowed to enter jails.
“Prima facie it is evident that some person from outside has been a carrier and transmitted the disease within jails. Appropriate precautions and measures were not taken to avoid spread of the virus in the jails,” the bench said.
The high court has directed that the best treatment be provided to jail inmates so that no further damage is caused.
The bench also said persons who have not been detected Covid-19 positive be segregated so that the disease is not transmitted to them. “All the jail inmates in Assam (must) be tested for Covid-19 and the result thereof conveyed to the court,” it said.
Sources said a July 17 letter from Nilima Studio: Collaborative Network for Research and Capacity Building, a national not-for-profit research organisation based in Guwahati, to the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court was converted into a suo motu PIL.
Nilay Dutta, the organisation’s president and senior advocate, had sought the chief justice’s “urgent attention” to the exponential number of Covid-19 cases in the prisons of Assam.
It had requested the testing of all inmates, immediate release of Covid patients so that they can avail of proper medical care and a time-bound status report on measures to check the spread of the virus and status of prisoners.
The court order comes close on the heels of Monday’s Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) directive to Dispur to furnish an action taken report on a July 9 complaint lodged by leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia highlighting the plight of jail inmates.
On Friday, the National Human Rights Commission asked Guwahati jail authorities to submit an action taken report within four weeks while acting on a complaint filed by Monojit Singha of Human Rights Defenders, Guwahati.
Singha, in an online application to the NHRC on July 15, had claimed that the condition of the inmates of the Guwahati Central Jail here was “very unsafe” because of the Covid-19 outbreak, with 90 per cent of them infected.