The High Court has asked Director General of Prisons to take immediate possible steps for the registration and vaccination of the prisoners lodged in jails in J&K or formulate a policy after considering representation, if any, in this regard.
Seeking intervention of court, two persons Naseem Qadri and Uzair Nazir Zarger through advocate Syed Musaib had filed a Public Interest Litigation seeking vaccination of prisoners against COVID 19 in various jails of J&K.
While disposing of the PIL, the division bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal asked the petitioners to submit a comprehensive representation regarding the registration and vaccination of the prisoners to J&K's Director General of Prisons .
"In the event, any such representation is submitted, the Director General of Prisons, would consider it and take all possible immediate steps for the registration and the vaccination of the prisoners or may formulate a policy or a scheme so that no inmate of the jail remains un-vaccinated," the court said.
While advocate Musaib on behalf of petitioners argued that the prisoners also have a right of life which included proper medication and protection against Covide-19 pandemic, Advocate General D C Raina submitted that the government was conscious of its obligation and appropriate steps were being taken for the vaccination of all the citizens including under-trials as well as convicted prisoners. "The prisoners are not going to be left out from vaccination and they would be vaccinated on turn at an appropriate time," AG said.
In the PIL, the petitioners had also sought direction for making arrangement for prisoners' access to mandatory Co-WIN application for uploading the requisite document for enabling them to be on beneficiary list.
While the petitioners submitted that as per the National Crime Records Bureau 4,78,600 prisoners were lodged in different jails of India in 2019, they said J&K Prisons department in its official website shows more than 8000 prisoners are currently lodged in 13 different prisons. "As per the media reports as many as 540 prisoners contracted COVID 19 virus and out of which two inmates lost their lives as well," they said.
The petitioners said the government started first phase of vaccination in mid-January 2021 which was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff only. The eligibility criteria, they said, was expanded to include people over 60 and subsequently those aged between 45 and 60 with other illnesses or comorbidities.
"The entire vaccination process has been linked to Co-WIN mobile application, with mandatory photo ID proof for registration and eligibility for vaccination."
While the petitioners alleged that undertrials, convicts and detenues lodged in various jails even though eligible for vaccination in terms of their relevant age were denied access to COVID vaccine, they contended that no arrangements were being made for people in custody with regard to Co WIN app access.
"The right to have access to Covid vaccination to every prison inmate is inherent within the bounds of fundamental and constitutional rights. The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment in Parmanand Katara vs union of India ruled that the state has an obligation to preserve life whether he is an innocent person or a criminal liable to punishment under the law", they said.
"The Universal declaration of the human rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) states that the prisoners have a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Apart from the civil and political rights, the second generation economic and social rights, as set down in the ICESAR, also apply to prisoners".
The prisoners, the petition said, "cannot fend for themselves in their situation of detention and it is the responsibility of the state to provide for health services and a healthy environment".