Is Aadhaar mandatory for prisoners to get vaccine jabs, HC asks Centre, Maharashtra

Lack of doses has halted vaccination in three prisons, court told

The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Centre and the Maharashtra government to clarify if it was mandatory for prisoners to carry their Aadhaar cards to get COVID-19 vaccines.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) petition on the rise of COVID-19 cases inside prisons in the State.

The court was informed that the prisoners were required to carry their Aadhaar cards for vaccination and many were left out as they did not have their cards with them.

To this, the court said, “Given that the vaccine was the surest and most cost-effective way of containing the spread of the virus, inmates must not be denied the vaccines because they did not have Aadhaar cards.”

The Bench said, “If the Aadhaar card is coming in the way, then let Aadhaar registration camps be organised then and there (in prisons or vaccination centres for inmates), and such cards be issued.”

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said the State had successfully got vaccination teams inside three prisons, but the process was paused due to lack of vaccines and trained staff.

The amicus curie, senior advocate Mihir Desai, and prof. Vijay Raghavan of Tata Institute of Social Sciences told the court that the high-powered committee constituted to look into the release of prisoners in the wake of the pandemic had not met since April 2020.

Mr. Desai said in 2020, there were 2,500 inmates in Taloja prison, and it currently had 3,500 prisoners.

Mr. Raghavan said while there were 47 prisons in the State with a capacity to house 23,000 inmates, they currently had 35,000 inmates and this was the situation after 10,000 prisoners were released in the last one year.

Mr. Kumbhakoni said, currently, there were 26 inmates across the 47 prisons, who were eligible for emergency parole. “However, some feel safer inside the prison. Some of them do not have the resources to sustain outside while some have a few months of sentence left so they want to complete their entire sentence in one stretch and then leave the prison finally,” he said.

He also said that at least 64,000 RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests had been conducted on prison inmates so far, of which 4,000 were conducted over the past week.

The HC said it would issue directions on May 4 to the committee to help decongest prisons.

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