The Bombay High Court on Friday directed all trial courts in Maharashtra to submit details of applications they had received, and decided upon, for temporary bails in an attempt to free up prisons in the State to maintain social-distancing norms to curb the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread.

A Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, also directed the State prison authorities to inform the High Court by Monday, of the standard operating procedure being (SOP) followed in jails on testing inmates, including those who were asymptomatic or high risk contacts of COVID-19 patients.

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It was hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations filed by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and other individual petitioners.

The petitions have sought that the State be directed to ensure safety of all prisoners currently lodged in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail and also other prisons in the State in light of news that several inmates and jail staff had tested positive for coronavirus.

Maharashtra panel decides to release 50% prisoners

Last month, during a previous hearing, the State government had submitted that it had made applications for releasing 14,400 inmates currently lodged in various prisons across Maharashtra to free up prison space and follow social-distancing norms in light of COVID-19 spread.

The State had told the High Court at the time that it had a capacity of 24,000 inmates across all prisons in Maharashtra.

HC tells magistrates to speed up interim bail hearings

“However, at the beginning of the lockdown (in March- end), there were 37,000 inmates lodged in these jails.

“While around 8,000 had been released on temporary bail, the jail authorities had made bail applications for 14,400 more inmates,” it had said.

The court had then directed that all pending applications for temporary bail be heard expeditiously.

“Today, we told the court that despite its orders, bail applications were not being decided upon expeditiously, so the court sought details from all trial courts,” said senior counsel Mihir Desai, the advocate for one of the petitioners.

Also Read | Jails turn into hotbeds of COVID-19 | Inmates at Arthur Road jail getting cured: State to HC

The Bnch also asked the prison authorities to inform the court whether it had arranged for video calling facility for inmates since they were unable to meet their relatives currently in view of the restrictions imposed due to COVID 19.

Earlier last month, 158 prisoners and 26 staff members had tested positive for coronavirus in Arthur Road Jail.

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