An RTI plea filed by a suspect in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts case has once again brought to the fore the thorny question of the constitutional rights of undertrials in jails. The issue of whether the right to information and right to education are available to an undertrial in prison and to what extent are the rights available has been taken up by the Delhi High Court,which has converted the plea of the terror suspect into a writ petition.
Last year,Ehtesham Ahmad Siddiqui,a suspect in the Mumbai train bombings case,had written to the Delhi High Court after the Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH),Delhi,denied a request to provide him with copies of 45 books necessary for studying a course.
The CCRH had rejected his request on the ground that these were priced publications and,hence,could not be given out free of cost. His request for soft copies was also turned down,citing copyright laws.
Siddiqui was asked to pay
Rs 50,000 to avail the information under the RTI Act. After the request was rejected again by the Chief Information Commissioner,Siddiqui sent a letter to the Delhi High Court,stating that as he was an undertrial and had not been proven guilty,he could not be denied his constitutional rights.
Siddiqui,in his letter,argued that the educational material came under the category of information allowed under the RTI Act.
Copies of priced publications by a government agency can be given out for free under Section 7(5) of the RTI Act to persons below the poverty line.
The Delhi High Court took up his plea and framed various questions of law,including the right of a detenue to information and education,and the issue of whether a prisoner can be allowed to attend the hearings in a plea filed by him on issues separate from his ongoing trial.
The issue is also whether an undertrial could be given the information free of cost as a person deemed below the poverty line,since he is not allowed to access his own money. We need to create a balance between the rules in the jail and the right of a man to education and information, advocate Sumeet Pushkarna,the amicus curiae in the case,said.
Another issue that the court will be examining is whether Siddiqui can be allowed to travel to Delhi from Mumbai jail to attend the hearings in the matter.
The Delhi High Court issued notices to the CCRH,the Delhi government,the Central government and the jail authorities to reply to the plea earlier this year.
On Friday,the court issued fresh notices to the Delhi government and the Centre. The amicus curiae also asked the court to make the Additional Solicitor General a party to the case as the matter involved a constitutional issue.