Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) is deeply worried about Professor Hany Babu’s health, in wake of news that he is suffering from a serious eye infection that could lead to loss of vision in one eye. According to his family, he has little or no vision in his left eye due to the swelling caused by the infection, which has spread to the cheek, ear and forehead. The family fears the worst if the swelling spreads to his brain. And yet jail authorities have failed to provide him proper medical care.
The 55-year-old professor is an accused in the alleged Elgar Parishad conspiracy behind the Bhima Koregaon violence. He is currently lodged in Taloja Central Prison, Maharashtra and has been complaining of an acute eye infection, pain, and gradual loss of vision since May 3, 2021.
Jenny Rowena, Hany Babu’s wife, along with his brothers, Harish MT and MT Ansari have released a press statement on May 11, 2021, saying that due to an acute water shortage in the prison, he does not have access to clean water to even wash his eye and is forced to use soiled towels to dress it. When the prison Medical Officer had informed Hany Babu that the prison did not have adequate resources to treat his eye infection, the Professor immediately requested for consultation an eye specialist. But he was not taken for consultation as prison authorities claim an escort officer was not available.
It was only after his lawyers sent an email on May 6, 2021, to the Superintendent, Taloja Jail, that he was taken to a Government Hospital in Vashi on May 7, 2021, where he was examined by an Ophthalmologist, prescribed certain anti-bacterial medication, and advised to return for a follow up treatment. But he was reportedly not taken for the advised follow-up examination, again, due to lack of escort officers.
On May 10, 2021, repeated calls to the Superintendent made Professor Babu’s lawyer, Ms. Payoshi Roy, went unanswered. At 8:30 P.M, the Jailor informed Ms. Roy that he was aware of Hany Babu’s condition and was making arrangements to take him to the hospital the next day. As follow-up, Hany Babu’s lawyers also sent another email to the Superintendent. However, he was not taken to the hospital even on May 11.
Court directives on prison decongestion amidst Covid
Meanwhile, given a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases, the courts have intervened and taken note of overcrowding and unhygienic conditions prevailing in jails across India.
In the Supreme Court’s suo motu petition, In Re: Contagion of Covid-19 Virus in Prisons, (Suo Motu W.P Civ. No. 1 of 2020), it passed an order on May 7, 2021 for re-release of all prisoners across the country who were released last year due to the pandemic and were subsequently asked to surrender in view of better conditions.
Despite the top court’s order to “maintain levels of daily hygiene and sanitation”, jail conditions remain very abysmal.
The Bombay High Court has also taken cognisance of the inadequate facilities in jail, hoping for the State to ramp up amenities for all inmates. In the suo motu public interest litigation it registered, by the name, High Court on its own motion vs State of Maharashtra and Ors (Suo Motu PIL No. 1 of 2021), the Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni noted the submission made by one of the intervening applicants “that the correctional homes do not have adequate number of doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff. Reference has been made to Taloja correctional home where only 3 (three) doctors are available who practice Ayurveda.”
“If indeed that be so, it is a poor reflection of the State’s health and medi-care facilities for the inmates of the correctional homes, betraying apathy and indifference to attend to their needs”, the Bench itself had noted through its order dated April 29, 2021.
Recently, when the jailed Kerala based journalist Siddique Kappan took a fall in Mathura Jail and tested positive for Covid-19, the supreme court held that he should be transferred to a hospital for better care and medical attention. In Kerala Union of Working Journalists Versus Union Of India & Ors. (Writ Petition Criminal No. 307 of 2020), the Supreme Court held, “We state that the most precious fundamental ‘right to life’ unconditionally embraces even an undertrial.”
Right to Health is fundamental to Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and it is the obligation of the State to protect this right of all citizens. In State of Punjab and Ors vs Mohinder Singh Chawla (Civil Appeal Number 16980-81 of 1996), the Supreme Court held that, “It is now settled law that right to health is an integral to right to life. Government has constitutional obligation to provide the health facilities.”
In Kirloskar Brothers Ltd. vs. Employees State Insurance corporation 1996 (2) SCC 682, the Supreme Court highlighted the same obligation and the duty of the State to protect its citizens.
Laws related to medical aid to prisoners
The Maharashtra Classification of Prisons Rules, 2015, that has been framed under the Prison Act, 1894, lays down provisions mandated for prisoners and undertrials in need of immediate medical attention.
Rule 3(2)(5) lays down that The Chief Medical Officer shall:
“pay special attention to the quality and quantity of the water supply to the prison. If contamination is suspected, he shall send water samples to the local testing laboratories and take corrective measures where needed.”
(6) Inspect at least once a month the sources, surroundings and distribution of water supply. When there is a reason to suspect that pollution or contamination is likely, to occur, he shall take suitable steps to ensure the purity’ of water by chlorination or otherwise.
(14) The medical officer may treat the sick prisoner with the help of tele-medicines and send the sick prisoner to the Government hospital only if tele-medicine and treatment within the prison hospital are inadequate to treat the inmate.”
Hany Babu could lose vision in one eye; he must be released immediately!
It is the obligation of the State to offer medical attention to each and every citizen of the country, including inmates of jails, under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. As per some reports, Taloja as of now houses around 3,500 prisoners as opposed to its capacity of 2,124 inmates, with a 133 percent occupancy rate. Denying him proper medical attention could cost Professor Babu his eye.
We humbly urge and request Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil to release Hany Babu for immediate treatment in any hospital in the state under a specialised eye doctor. As prisons is a State subject, that falls under every state government, it is the obligation of the state to fulfil this appeal for urgent medical help, without any further delay.