Shri Naveen Pattnaik,
The Chief Minister, Odisha
SUB: PRISONERS AND PRISON CONDITIONS IN ODISHA – AN OPEN LETTER TO
THE CHIEF MINISTER
We, in Jan Adhikar Manch, Odisha, are deeply concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly spreading in Odisha too. While reports in the mass media state that jail inmates are getting increasingly affected by the pandemic in states like Maharashtra and Assam, similar reports today claim that 33 under trial prisoners and 10 staff of Berhampur Circle Jail, District Ganjam have tested Covid-19 positive. Hence, we draw your attention to the condition of prisoners housed in various jails across the state and demand quick remedial measures.
- As on March, 2020 there were 15789 prisoners in as many as 91 prisons including sub-jails, special women prisons and open prisons of the state. Of them, over 12195 (77%) were under trials and 3594 (23%) were convicts.
- As the prisoners are cut off from their near and dear ones and confined in the four walls of the prison, they are prone to mental distress even in any normal situation. Recently, the State Human Rights Commission realizing the gravity of the situation had directed the state government to take immediate steps for amelioration of prison conditions. Naturally, when the state government imposed restrictions on family or relatives meeting prisoners due to the pandemic, inmates became more vulnerable to mental distress. Though the government has introduced e-mulakat in the prison, it is a fact that many of the jails are not equipped with electronic devices to conduct such meetings. Secondly, the courts are not functioning normally due to pandemic restrictions. As a result under trial prisoners are being deprived of getting justice in due time which, in turn, is fuelling their mental distress.
- Jan Adhikar Manch welcomes the steps taken by the government of Odisha when the Supreme Court in March, 2020 directed all state governments to constitute high-powered committees to take steps to release prisoners to decongest the prisons. However, it is shocking to see today the grave situation in Berhampur jail. Also, the Manch is worried to learn from the family members of Shri Nirakar Nayak, an under trial prisoner in the Surada sub-jail Ganjam district, that nearly 50% of jail inmates are suffering from fever and cold which are considered as primary symptoms of Covid-19. We apprehend that similar situation may have arisen in other prisons, especially in the severely affected districts like Ganjam, Khurda, Cuttack and Jajpur. In the recent past, the mass media had reported that some under trials of Rourkela jail had also been affected by Covid-19.
It is in this context that Jan Adhikar Mach demands the following:
- Conduct Covid-19 tests in all the jails of the state, especially where the inmates are showing primary symptoms like cold and fever.
- Send convicts home on parole to de-congest the prisons.
- Make the necessary arrangement with judicial authorities to grant immediate bail to all under trials not charged with serious offences.
- Grant bail to imprisoned women with children on priority basis.
- Grant bail to pregnant women, elderly and differently abled persons.
- Conduct weekly health check-ups of inmates to diagnose early symptoms.
- Make immediate arrangements to employ doctors and supporting medical staff to provide adequate health checkups and health facilities to all prisoners.
Convenor, Jan Adhikar Manch, Odisha
Constituent Organizations of Jan Adhikar Manch: All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS); AIKKS, AIKMS, Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha; Upakulia Jami O Jungle Surakshya Samiti; GASS; CMS-Odisha (AIKMKS); Janbadi Lekhak Sangh; Banwasi Surakshya Parishad, Kandhamal; Basti Surakshya Manch; Humanist Rationalist Organization; MASM; Campaign Against Fabricated Cases; Malkangiri Zilla Adivasi Sangh; IFTU and TUCI
Email – [email protected]