The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra government to follow the Union government's SoP on vaccinating prison inmates, including those inmates who do not have an Aadhaar card.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni also directed the state to fill up vacancies for doctors and other medical staff in prisons and correctional homes across the state.
The bench was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs), including one taken up suo motu (on its own), on containing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons across Maharashtra.
During the previous hearing last month, the HC asked the state what would be done for vaccinating the inmates who did not have an Aadhaar card.
On Wednesday, the state and the Union government informed the HC that on May 6, the Centre issued detailed SoPs (standard operating procedures), entrusting district task forces with the responsibility of registering those groups of people on CoWIN portal who did not have any photo ID cards or Aadhaar cards, and for ensuring that they were vaccinated.
The Union government's counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, told the HC that as per these guidelines, prison inmates could be vaccinated even without the Aadhaar cards, but they would have to register on the CoWIN portal.
The bench also noted that as per the state's own records, almost one-third of the posts of medical officers in jails across Maharashtra were lying vacant.
In the Taloja prison, located in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, there were only three Ayurveda doctors, the HC said.
The bench said as per the Centre's rules, all prisons should have requisite and able medical staff, but the state's affidavit before the HC was "absolutely silent" on the issue.
"You (state) say you have doctors, but then you''ll have to show us how the strength is spread over all correctional facilities. In these difficult times, one-third is vacant," the court said.
The bench said as per rules, prisons were supposed to have different categories of medical staff, including MBBS doctors and paramedical staff.
"The medical staff category class 1 is an MBBS doctor. In the prisons in Kolhapur, Amravati, Yerwada, Nagpur, Mumbai central prison, there are no class 1 staff," the HC said.
It also noted that in the Yerwada prison in Pune, for a total of 8,000 inmates, there was not a single doctor available.
"Already one year of the pandemic is over. In these times, you can't depend on the already burdened state-run hospitals. All jails must have at least the sanctioned posts filled," the HC said.
The court will continue hearing the pleas on May 19.