A year ago, difficulty in getting a police escort and a threat to his life led lone accused in the German Bakery blast Mirza Himayat Baig to be produced in the Bombay High Court through video conferencing (VC) from a Pune prison. Now, not just Baig but all accused in Maharashtra’s prisons can be produced in courts through VC facility, the state has said.
Also, a “tele-medicine” facility has been started on an experimental basis in the Mumbai Central prison. This too could be replicated in all prisons, the government has said.
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Maharashtra’s Home Department has spent over Rs 615 crore in equipping all 38 prisons and 217 of the 295 courts with VC facilities, between 2012 and 2015.
The equipment in various courts includes 48-inch Large Format Display (LFD) screens, laptops, audio and video devices, as prescribed the state government. These purchases were made by the Additional Director General of police and Inspector General of Prisons, Maharashtra.
The revelation comes as part of a public interest litigation filed in HC in 2011 by Shaikh Abdul Naeem, an accused in the Aurangabad arms haul case, who claimed that he was not being produced in court due to lack of escort police.
On Wednesday, Mumbai Central Prison superintendent Bharat Bhosale filed an affidavit revealing that 86 VC units have been installed in 38 prisons and six controlling offices in the state. In addition, 231 such units have been installed at 217 courts across the state.
Undertrials and convicts may be produced only through VC when various courts in the state pass orders for their production through such a medium, says the affidavit.
Additional Director General of Police (prisons) Meeran Borwankar said, however, that the move would ease some of the burden, not all of it. “With this facility, only 40 per cent prisoners can be produced. Undertrials cannot be tried with it… Also, the defence lawyers object to this as they stress on their clients’ physical presence. The facility can be used mostly for remand purposes,” said Borwankar.
When there is dearth of sufficient police escort while producing undertrials, they should be produced through VC on necessary instruction from courts, said Bhosale. However, he stressed on the fact that when prisoners need to go to court for attendance, adequate police escort should be provided, irrespective of emergencies including VVIP visits. In 2013 alone, 43, 491 prisoners were produced in various courts through the VC facility. The number of prisoners escalated to 61,554 in 2014. Therefore, rising production through VC shows a dip of 11.96 per cent in police escorts when both years are compared.
“The VC facility is the best substitute to providing the police escorts for production of prisoners. It will also reduce the unnecessary stress on the escort duty police personnel as well as prevent offences en route,” the affidavit filed through state lawyer Mankunwar Deshmukh says.
Borwankar agrees that malpractices among prisoners can be brought down through VC.