Gauhati HC registers PIL over Covid cases in Assam jails

The Gauhati High Court on Thursday asked the Assam’s prisons’ authority to provide the best qualitative treatment to the jail inmates across the state so that no further damage is caused, officials said.

The High Court’s intervention comes following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a senior advocate Nilay Dutta after a few hundred of prisoners tested positive for coronavirus and the rising number of infections inside the jails across Assam.

The High Court bench comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Manish Choudhury directed the Inspector General of Prisons to file an affidavit on the issue and listed the case for next hearing on September 8.

The Court order said: “We hereby direct that the best of the measures available with the state of Assam, be employed to give qualitative treatment to the jail inmates across the state so that no further damage is caused. We also direct that the persons who have not been detected COVID-19 positive be segregated and be maintained as such so that the disease is not transmitted to them.

“In any case, all the jail inmates in Assam be tested for COVID-19. The result thereof be conveyed to the court.”

The HC said that in the affidavit of the IG Prison must be mentioned about how many Covid positive cases have been detected in each of the jails, precautions taken before the inmates were found to be coronavirus positive, the steps being taken for disinfecting the jails and giving treatment to inmates and how many patients are asymptomatic and symptomatic in each of the jails.

The Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) headed by Justice T. Vaiphei has also asked the state government to submit an action taken report by August 5 about the enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols in the Guwahati Central Jail.

The AHRC issued the notice to Assam Chief Secretary and Inspector General (Prison) on Monday following a complaint filed by opposition leader Debrabrata Saikia, who is a senior Congress legislator.

According to the officials of the Health and Family Welfare Department, around 535 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 across 10 jails in the state, of whom the highest around 435 was detected in Guwahati central jail.

Officials of the IG Prison office said that the Assam government is likely to release around 375 prisoners within the next one week to decongest jails across the state.Of the around 375 prisoners to be released, 111 are presently lodged in Guwahati Central Jail in Khanapara.

A 200-bedded Covid Care Centre has been set up inside Guwahati Central Jail to treat asymptomatic prisoners and the authorities are creating a second such facility at Nagaon Special Jail.

According to the officials, of the 31 jails and six detention centres (for “declared foreigners”) currently accommodate around 8,800 inmates against the sanctioned strength of 8,938 after more than 300 inmates were released from the detention centres as well.

In pursuance to the Supreme Court’s order, different state governments of the northeastern region including Assam have taken several steps to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus in jails.

In all the eight northeastern states, several thousand prisoners had already been released on interim bail or PR Bond to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic inside the jails.

Assam has registered 25,092 COVID-19 positive cases till Tuesday night, while 17,095 patients have recovered and 58 succumbed to the virus. The state has 7,936 active cases.

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