The Gauhati High Court on Thursday ordered the Assam government to provide the best treatment to prisoners who have tested positive for the coronavirus after it registered a suo motu petition on the rising number of Covid-19 infections in prisons, PTI reported. It also directed authorities to test all inmates across the state and inform the results to the court accordingly.

A total 535 inmates have tested positive for Covid-19 across 10 jails in the state, of whom the highest – 435 – was detected in Guwahati central jail, Inspector General of Prisons Dasarath Das told PTI.

Several prisoners have contracted the infection across the country as authorities struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus. On Tuesday, Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam had tested positive for the coronavirus in a prison in Guwahati. Assam activist Akhil Gogoi had on July 11 tested positive for the virus at the same prison, while poet-activist Varavara Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad case, tested positive last week in Mumbai.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Manish Choudhury ordered the inspector general of prisons to file an affidavit “clearly indicating how many covid positive cases have been detected in each of the jails”. The matter has been listed matter for hearing on September 8.

The affidavit will also have to include details about the precautionary practices that were being observed in jails before the inmates contracted the infection and the steps being taken for disinfecting the premises. The court has also sought information about the kind of medical treatment given to the inmates and has asked for a record of asymptomatic and symptomatic patients in each of the prison.

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“In the meantime, we hereby direct that the best of the measures available with the state of Assam be employed to give qualitative treatment to the jail inmates across the state so that no further damage is caused, ” the court said in its order. “We also direct that the persons who have not been detected Covid-19 positive be segregated and be maintained as such so that the disease is not transmitted to them.”

The order added that in case the affidavit was not filed on time, the court is likely to “impose exemplary cost to be deducted from the salary of the office who is found responsible in causing delay in process of the Court”.

In March, the Supreme Court had directed all states and Union Territories to form high-powered committees chaired by a High Court judge to oversee the process of decongesting jails. The committees were tasked with laying down criteria under which prisoners could be released.