JK High Court disposes off petition demanding accessibility of COVID vaccine for prison inmates

There are around 8,000 prisoners currently lodged in 13 different prisons of JK

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir High Court Friday disposed off the petition which demanded accessibility of COVID-19 vaccination to the prisoners lodged in 13 different prisons of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The petition was filed by Naseem Qadri and Uzair Nazir Zarger seeking the direction from the high court to make vaccines available for all the prisoners of JK as the government had not taken any step to make vaccination drive accessible to prison inmates.

As per the website of JK UT prison department, as quoted by the petition, there are around 8,000 prisoners currently lodged in 13 different prisons of JK UT making them vulnerable to the virus.

Last year, around 540 prisoners contracted COVID-19 virus and out of which two inmates have lost their lives. However, the government has not made arrangements to allow prisoners to undergo vaccination drives.

In Kashmir, the first phase of vaccination started in mid-January which was limited to health workers and frontline staffers only. Later, in March the vaccination was extended to people of age group between 45-60 with co-morbidities.

The entire vaccination drive has been linked to the Co-win mobile application, with mandatory photo ID proof for registration and eligibility for vaccination.

However, the under-trials, convicts and detainees lodged in various Jails across JK, even though are eligible for vaccination, are denied access to COVID vaccination.

“The access to health care is an inalienable right of every citizen including the prison inmates. Under the Article 21 of the constitution of India, which states no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, the government cannot deprive prisoners access to COVID vaccination,” the petition argued.

The petition quoted the universal declaration of human rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) which states that prisoners have a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Similarly, the petition has asked the Court to issue any writ, order or direction directing the respective departments to make the vaccine available against COVID-19 virus for all the prison inmates lodged in JK jails.

“The petition have also asked the court to issue any writ, order or directions directing the respective departments to make arrangement for the prisoners to access the mandatory Co-win application for uploading the requisite documents and enabling prisoners to be on beneficiary list,” reads the petition, a copy of which has been read by Free Press Kashmir.

According to a renowned medical expert who is associated with COVID-19 duty (on condition of anonymity), “it is extremely important for prisoners to be vaccinated because they do have access to any healthcare and it is not possible for them to maintain social distancing and follow COVID-19 SOPs.”

“Government should prioritize vaccinating prisoners especially those who are co-morbid, elderly and those who stay together in small spaces otherwise they will get infected and communicate the virus to other prisoners as well,” he added.

Advocate, Syed Musaib, the counsel representing petitioners, said that petition was filed for the vaccination of eligible prisoners and for registration of remaining prisoners on Co-win mobile app.

“For UT advocate general appeared and for the Union government additional solicitor general appeared. They acknowledged the fact that every citizen including prisoners have the right to be vaccinated and they are in a process of vaccinating everyone in the UT of JK. After hearing both sides, the court has reserved the PIL for orders,” Advocate Musaib noted.

As per the order, the court has asked petitioners to submit a comprehensive representation regarding the registration and vaccination of the prisoners to the Director General (DG) of prison JK UT.

“The DG prison would consider the representation brought to him by the petitioner and take all possible immediate steps for the registration and vaccination of the prisoners or may formulate a policy or a scheme so that no inmate of the jail remains unvaccinated,” reads the court order.

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