BY- JAGRATI GUPTA
Introduction: On Thursday, the Bombay High Court Bench consisting of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar gave a landmark observation in Nirmala Kumari Uppuganti vs State of Maharashtra regarding the rights of prisoners. The court while granting palliative care to an undertrial prisoner observed that the Right to life safeguarded under Article 21 of the Constitution includes a prisoner also and no prisoner ceases to be a human or is detached from his rights on account of his/ her offence. The said observation was made regarding a blast accused and alleged Naxal – Nirmala Uppuganti. The court directed the prison officials to transfer the accused to a hospice called Shanti Avedna Hospice by September 15 from her cell at Byculla Women’s Prison and further ordered to shift her Tata Memorial Hospital if circumstances require.
Background of the case: In 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Uppuganti and her husband Satyanarayana in their alleged nexus with Gadchiroli Naxal case 15 personnel of the Quick Response Team and a private vehicle’s driver in Gadchiroli were killed due to an improvised explosive device (IED) blast carried out by Naxals. The case is currently under trial. On 2nd September 2021, Uppuganti moved to Bombay HC seeking palliative care on account of multiple skeletal metastases (cancer) stage 4 breast cancer which was detected in 2016. Her illness has harrowed her entire body especially her lungs, skull and liver subjecting her to enormous sufferance and endurance. Her deplorable condition has forced her to file the petition seeking palliative care.
Petitioner’s argument: The petitioner’s counsel Advocate Payoshi Roy contended that the petitioner is suffering from an ancillary disease and is enduring excruciating pain. The conditions in prison are not favourable to the condition of the petitioner who is a prisoner and that every day at the prison is a living hell for her. The prison has not allotted her access to a hot water bag, mattress, sanitized bathrooms, medicines and attendants of which she is in urgent need. Since all her vital organs have been seriously affected making her incapable of moving from one place to another, it would be inhuman to make her suffer unbearably with bare minimum facilities for a prisoner.
Opposing Counsel’s argument: The state’s counsel, Sangeeta Shinde resisting the said petition argued that the petitioner is accused of a serious offence and that the petitioner’s contention that the accused is incapable to move is completely false and that she has been provided with the help, two other inmates, to take care of her in prison. Shinde vehemently opposed the petition, saying that Uppuganti should remain in prison and take treatment at Tata whenever required.
Court’s Observation: The court questioned the conditions of prisons and held that the prison is not favourable for the accused due to her fatal illness. The court held, “A prisoner, be he a convict or undertrial or a detenue, does not cease to be a human being, and even when lodged in jail, he is not deprived of his right to life guaranteed to him under Article 21 of the Constitution, which includes the right to obtain medical treatment. A prisoner cannot be deprived of health services as it would violate the guarantee conferred under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”. Thus, the prognosis of the disease explicitly showcases the excruciating pain endured by the accused and hence, the necessity of palliative care and nursing can hardly be overemphasized.