Odisha high court on Wednesday said there was an urgent need to decongest jails in the state and suggested upgrading other government-owned buildings to house inmates amid a rapid spread of Covid-19 infection in prisons.
The court felt that at least six jails in the state were overcrowded. “This includes the district jail in Phulbani, the special sub-jail in Bhadrak and the sub-jails in Jajpur, Nayagarh, Parlakhemundi and Malkangiri. The situation in the Bhadrak special sub-jail is particularly acute where against the capacity of 166 there are over 430 prisoners. In a time of Covid-19 Pandemic, this can also pose a serious risk to the health and safety of the prisoners as well as the jail staff,” the court said.
As per the high power committee of Odisha State Legal Service Authority, formed to look into release of inmates from jails owing to Covid-19, at least 816 inmates were found to be positive in May and 71 other inmates and 4 employees of Gunupur sub-jail in Koraput district tested positive for the disease on Tuesday.
A decongestion drive was recently carried out in state’s prisons which reduced the number of inmates in the state’s 87 jails to 18,580 against the full capacity of 19,824. The director general (DG) of prisons Santosh Upadhyay said the capacity of jails was being raised by 3,000. However, 53 of the 87 jails in the state are yet to report any Covid cases.
The court order by the division bench of chief justice Dr S Muralidhar and justice Savitri Ratho comes at a time when former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) minister and Gopalpur MLA Pradip Panigrahi and former Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Abhay Pathak, arrested in Tata Motor job scam and disproportionate assets cases, tested Covid positive in Jharpada special jail of Bhubaneswar. Both Panigrahi and Pathak are yet to get bail.
The court said prisoners in excess of the holding capacity of jails should be shifted in a phased manner in other safe and secure premises. “This could be [done] by upgrading other state buildings/facilities to meet the requirements of prisons,” the HC said. It also directed the state government to submit a detailed action plan for dealing with the situation.