‘We are not asking you to increase the sanctioned strength, at least fill the sanctioned posts’
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday questioned the Maharashtra government on the lack of doctors across prisons in the State and said, “We are not asking you to increase the sanctioned strength, at least fill the sanctioned posts.”
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni was informed that for 47 prisons across Maharashtra, there are only 32 doctors, of which two doctors held the MBBS degree, and of the sanctioned 175 posts for the medical branch, 112 posts had been filled while 63 posts were still vacant.
The issue was raised in a suo motu public interest litigation concerning the increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in prisons after the court went through an affidavit submitted by the State and found that it was silent on the issue of staffing.
The Bench said “We had asked you to ensure that the prison manual is implemented in letter and spirit as far it provides for medical doctors in prison. But your affidavit is silent on this.”
Justice Kulkarni remarked, “In these difficult times, one-third of the posts are vacant? What about Class 1 medical officers? These are MBBS doctors. And Nagpur, Yerawada, Kolhapur, Amravati, Thane jails have no doctors. There is one vacancy in Taloja Central Jail. What is the total number of inmates in Yerawada jail?” the court asked.
The Bench then asked for the number of inmates at the Yerawada Central Prison and was informed that the prison had 5,907 inmates. The Bench expressed surprise that there was not even a single doctor for so many inmates.
The Chief Justice then questioned, “Isn’t it your duty to fill the sanctioned posts? We are not asking you to increase the sanctioned posts.”
Vaccination in prisons
The amicus curiae senior advocate Mihir Desai informed the court that the Central government’s Standard Operating Procedure allowed vaccination of even those inmates who did not have Aadhaar cards.
Professor Vijay Raghavan, Centre for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences also told the court about vaccination drives carried out in prisons in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. He said a camp was set up inside the jail premises, where vaccination was done smoothly and ensured that the maximum numbers of inmates were inoculated. He also urged the court to consider passing a direction to release pregnant women, children, HIV positive and tuberculosis patients inside prisons.
“There are 40 temporary prisons where the availability of smartphones has increased from 40 to 50. At Taloja Central jail, 257 prison staff were vaccinated and in Mumbai Central jail 195 staff members along with staff from district prisons in the State,” read a note from the State.
The note also said that only staff members who have been vaccinated were allowed to interact with inmates. A register is maintained at the entrance to jails to check the temperature of staff. Sanitisers have been made available and 24,250 additional masks were being distributed among prison inmates. There are 10,161 inmates who are 18 years and above of age, and have Aadhaar cards, which enables vaccination.