Elgaar Parishad case: HC seeks prison dept’s stand on allowing Navlakha, others to make phone calls to kin, lawyers
The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the state prison department to clarify whether Elgaar Parishad case accused Gautam Navlakha and other prisoners can make telephone and/or video conference calls to their family members and lawyers.
Justice N M Jamdar and Justice N R Borkar were hearing a plea filed by Navlakha, seeking, among other things, access to a telephone at Taloja Central Jail, where he is lodged. The HC granted time to the state lawyer to take instructions from the department and posted the next hearing to July 12.
Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry, representing Navlakha, told HC that telephonic conversations were allowed for nearly two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic but stopped from December 2021, when physical meetings were allowed. He added that due to such restrictions, Navlakha is not allowed to speak over the phone to his partner, who is in Delhi, and cannot call lawyers as well.
“If (permission) was given for two years without any problems, then why not now? Why the cruelty? They (inmates) have sustained for two years because of this. Model prison manuals across states allow phone calls, even Delhi prisons allow it,” Chaudhary argued.
The HC asked Additional Public Prosecutor Sangeeta D Shinde, representing the department, to inform why telephonic conversations could not be allowed for all prisoners. “It might reduce footfall. You tell us if the state wants to reintroduce the system? And not just during Covid-19 times but also normal times,” the HC orally asked.
As Shinde said that there was no provision to allow such calls, Chaudhary said as per Maharashtra State Prison Rules, undertrial prisoners are entitled to reasonable facilities. To this, Shinde said that while prisons allow phone calls through coin boxes twice a week, there may be different rules for undertrial prisoners booked for “serious offences” under special laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Shinde told HC that a PIL is pending before another HC bench seeking that telephonic or video conference calls be allowed in jails.
On June 20, a division bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta had suggested to Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that he should personally visit prisons and give an independent report, after the court was informed that the video calling facility for inmates – which has been discontinued since December 2021 – cannot be resumed due to logistical and security issues.
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