NEW DELHI: Taking suo motu cognisance of overcrowding of prisons across the country, the Supreme Court on Monday said it is difficult for jail inmates to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Expressing concern over the overcrowding in jails, the top court said there are 1,339 prisons in this country housing approximately 4,66,084 inmates (in 2018) while the actual total capacity of jails is 3,96,223.
As per National Crime Records Bureau, the occupancy rate of Indian prisons is at 117.6%, with states such as UP and Sikkim have an occupancy rate as high as 176.5 per cent and 157.3 per cent respectively.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao said that like most other viral diseases, the susceptibility of COVID-19 is greater in overcrowded places, mass gatherings and studies indicate that contagious viruses such as COVID-19 proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons.
The top court said that several prison staff enter the prisons regularly, and so do visitors and lawyers and therefore, there is a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the prison inmates.
The court noted the example of Kerala, where isolation cells have been set up within prisons and those suffering with COVID-19 symptoms isolated.