The NHRC has sent notices to the Maharashtra government and the chief of state prisons over allegations of wrong interpretation of a Supreme Court order on releasing prisoners in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said on Thursday.
The notices have been sent based on a complaint filed by the commission's Prison Monitor Maja Daruwala.
"The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognisance of a complaint that the government of Maharashtra has adopted an inappropriate approach about the release of prisoners, which may lead to infecting many prisoners with COVID-19," the NHRC said in a statement.
The policy allegedly adopted by the Maharashtra government to decongest jails has arisen due to "misinterpretation of directions" given by the Supreme Court in the matter, the rights panel said.
It said, allegedly, of the random tests conducted on 144 prisoners in the Arthur Road Jail, 103 were found positive, including 26 members of the staff.
The complainant has requested for the intervention of the commission to ensure the well-being of prisoners. Several suggestions have been given in her communication, the NHRC said.
The commission has observed that it is aware of the fact that in many jails, prisoners as well as staff members have fallen prey to the COVID-19 due to overcrowding, lack of manpower and medical facilities.
The NHRC said, accordingly, it has sent a copy of the complaint to the chief secretary and the DG (Prisons), Maharashtra, seeking a detail report within four weeks.
The report should be submitted to the commission in a format giving details of all the jails in the state, mentioning capacity of the jail, number of prisoners presently lodged, number of prisoners found positive for COVID-19, number of prisoners kept under quarantine, number of prisoners who have died due to COVID-19 and steps being taken by the state prison authority to ensure safety of prisoners and the personnel working in jails.
According to the complaint, the Supreme Court had directed all states and union territories to constitute a high-powered committee to decide which class of prisoners will be released in order to decongest jails by way of bail or parole.
The directions have been given due to spread of COVID-19 inside various jails and to maintain social distancing, at the maximum, as per the complaint.
It is mentioned in the complaint that 60 jails in the state of Maharahstra have 36,000 inmates against the available capacity of 24,095.
Only, the Yerawada Central Prison in Pune which is one of the largest prisons of the state, houses over 6,000 inmates against available capacity of 2,500.
It is also mentioned that a large number of posts are lying vacant in these prisons, including medical staff.