Bombay HC orders State to Fill up Vacant Doctors, Medical staff Posts for prison Hospitals, ramp up vaccination for Jail Inmates
Mumbai: Concerned over the rising number of Covid-19 cases among jail inmates, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the State Government to fill up the vacant posts of medical officers and staffers in the correctional facilities or jail hospitals. Noting that almost one-third of posts of medical officers in Maharashtra prisons were lying vacant the High Court observed that "at least efforts should have been made so that all the sanctioned posts are filled up and that there is zero vacancy qua such posts."
Apart from this, a slew of directions has been issued by the High Court division bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni to keep the spread of Covid-19 inside the correctional homes at the bare minimum. These directions included, following the Union Government's standard operating procedures (SOPs) to inoculate the jail inmates, decongesting jails, restricting entry of the prison staff inside correctional homes, increasing the rate of testing and sanitization inside correctional homes and setting up temporary prisons, etc.
The High Court bench was listening to suo-motu public interest litigation (PIL) initiated on April 16, addressing the rapid surge of Covid-19 cases in the last two months from 47 to 188 in the State prisons.
As per the latest media report by the Hindustan Times, following the directions given by the Court at the last hearing, the State authorities filed a reply on Wednesday. After perusing the reply, the High Court bench noted that there were the total numbers of inmates residing in various prisons and correctional homes in the State is 35,124.
As per an affidavit filed by the State, out of 175 sanctioned posts of medical officers, 112 were filled, while 63 were vacant. Even within this, the prisons had only 32 doctors, including only two doctors who were MBBS. The vacant posts include two psychologists, two psychiatrists, one Class-I medical officer, 11 Class-II & III medical officers, 13 compounders, 30 nursing orderlies and four lab technicians, reports LiveLaw
The HT adds that the issue of insufficient jail doctors had been noted in the previous hearing. The court had observed that some of the prisons like Taloja Central prison had only three Ayurveda doctors and no Class I medical officer as per Prison Rules, 2015. Further worried about the death of two jail inmates and one staff due to the Covid-19 infection, the High Court bench had sought to know the details about the availability of qualified medical staff in the jail hospitals.
After perusing the reply of the State, the High Court bench noted that in the case of both medical officers and paramedical staff, nearly 1/3rd of vacancies remain unfilled. Besides, although Medical Officers belonging to Classes I, II and III are shown to have been posted at various correctional homes but the principle behind such posting has not been indicated State's reply. The court also noted that Yerwada Central Prison was found not to have the service of a single Medical Officer Class I.
Noting that almost one-third of posts of medical officers in Maharashtra prisons were lying vacant, the High Court division bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni observed, "We are not asking you to increase the number of sanctioned posts. At least fill up the existing posts. Already one year of the pandemic is over and you cannot depend on already burdened state-run hospitals. All jails must have at least sanctioned posts of medical staff filled," reports Hindustan Times.
Thus, directing the State to ensure that the vacant posts are filled as per the Maharashtra Prison (Prison Hospital) Rules, 2015, the Court suggested formulating a policy of rotation in case there is a dearth of medical officers. The State has sought some time furnish full facts and figures and take steps to deal with this crisis.
Stressing upon vaccination of the prison inmates, the High Court on Wednesday directed the executive Government to "frame an appropriate policy bearing in mind all attendant circumstances to ensure that an eligible inmate of a correctional home is not deprived of the benefits of the vaccine owing to absence of any of the enumerated identity cards, including Aadhar Card."
During the hearing, the Court noted in this respect that as per the SOP issued on May 6 by the Union Government, where registration on the Co-WIN portal was made possible even if a person was found not to have any of the seven identity cards.
Taking note of the fact, the High Court directed, "the State as well as the prison authorities not to insist on production of Aadhar Cards by correctional home inmates and to proceed for vaccination of those inmates, not having the specified identity cards, in the manner as laid down in the SOP without any delay."
Hindustan Times adds that the prison authorities submitted before the Court that the jail staff members were vaccinated on a priority basis as other frontline workers. In fact, 3,252 prison staff across 46 jails were already vaccinated among the total number of 3,818 staff. It was also submitted before the court that 10,161 inmates above 18 years of age had Aadhar cards
The Court, however, found the steps taken to restrict the entry of prison staff inside correctional homes to be sufficient for the moment. The stat informed the bench that the staff members are being allowed inside only after pulse oximeter reading, temperature reading, and only after found to be wearing proper masks. In fact, the State assured the court to take steps to ensure that the entire prison staff is vaccinated at the earlierst.
The prompt steps taken by the State to set up temporary prisons on an emergency basis and making 40 such prisons functional have been praised by the High Court as well. However, the Court found the State to be silent on the initiative taken by the Undertrial Review Committee to prepare their plan of action based on the SOP prepared by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
Addressing the Court's concern regarding the steps taken to ensure the welfare and the benefit of the inmates of the correctional home, the State informed the Court that an additional 24,250 masks have been distributed amongst the correctional home inmates and the number of cell phone sets have been increased from 40 to 50. Further, 10,161 inmates, aged 18 years and more and having their Aadhar cards have been identified for vaccination, depending upon the availability of vaccines. Also, proactive role has been adopted for extending the rate of testing to the maximum number of inmates as well as staff subject to availability of RT-PCR tests.
However, noting that the number of the Covid-19 positive inmates have been increased from 244 on 28th April, to 311 on May 10, the Court mentioned that "much is required at the end of the prison authorities to arrest the spread of the pandemic in the correctional homes."
On Wednesday, Professor Vijay Raghavan, a member of Centre for Criminology and Justice, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), gave several suggestions to the Court regarding the issue. These include setting up vaccination camps within the precincts of the correctional homes so that the inmates are not required to be transported to a distant vaccination center and risk getting infected, vaccinating the family members of the prison staff, consider releasing women and children inmates infected with diseases like HIV/Tuberculosis, etc.
The matter would be next heard on May 19.
To view the original court order, click on the link below.