The state prison authorities on Thursday told the Bombay High Court that the number of Covid cases in prisons has come down substantially, and there are only five positive cases in Taloja Central Prison — the most populous prison in the state.

The court asked the jail authorities to consider providing mobile pathological labs for prisons rather than taking prisoners to hospitals for tests.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a suo motu PIL filed on the basis of news reports highlighting the rise in Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra jails.

Following reports of dearth of medical workers, the HC had on June 2 had asked the Maharashtra government to consider allowing doctors from nearby civil hospitals to visit jail hospitals regularly, preferably daily, on rotation to attend to ailing inmates for a minimum of two hours.

The HC had also directed the state government to consider amendments in the jail manual, which existed since ‘colonial times’, to facilitate admission of unwell inmates to nearby corporation-run hospitals.

On Thursday, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted the note on compliance of various HC directions and said that the number of Covid-19 cases in jails across the state had been brought down substantially.

Kumbhakoni said that the state home department has written to the health department to take necessary action to provide civil hospital doctors on rotational basis. He added that the prison authorities, on June 7, submitted a proposal to the home department to consider involving doctors from municipal hospitals to treat inmates.

The state government submitted that out of 1,291 prisoners (including undertrials and convicts) who are above 60 years of age, 1,148 are vaccinated and out of 4,553 prisoners between 45-60 years, 3,476 are vaccinated.

The state added that out of 28,006 inmates between 18 to 45 years of age, only 878 are vaccinated. Overall, out of 33,850 inmates, 5,502 are vaccinated, including 1,267 inmates having comorbidities belonging to all three age groups.

The government said it has been vaccinating inmates inside correctional homes depending on the stock available in the concerned district and has been giving priority to inmates having comorbidities.

Kumbhakoni assured the court that vaccination for the remaining 27,000 inmates would be undertaken as and when vaccines are available. He added that special arrangements are made for inmates who came in contact with Covid-19 positive prisoners and they were being observed regularly.

After suggestions by senior counsel Mihir Desai to provide basic health facilities in prisons, the court also asked the jail authorities to consider providing mobile pathological labs so that prisoners do not have to be taken outside jails for tests.

With professor Vijay Raghavan, member of Centre for Criminology and Justice in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who is assisting the court in the PIL, suggesting that sufficient police escorts be made available to inmates visiting civil hospitals, the HC asked the state government to ensure the same.

Moreover, on Raghavan’s suggestion, the HC asked the prison authorities to provide women doctors on rotation and need basis to treat women inmates.

The court posted further hearing on the PIL after two weeks.

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