The Maharashtra prisons department has informed the state government that contrary to the claims made by Vijay Mallya on the “poor state” of jails in India, the prisons in the state are well equipped where the fugitive businessman could be lodged safely. It has also said the “Indian agencies would be able to fulfill conditions related to the extradition treaty between India and UK”.
Mallya, an accused in the Rs 900-crore loan default case, is now in the UK. His extradition plea is being heard in London’s Westminster Court. In his plea, Mallya has raised the “poor conditions” of Indian prisons as one of the grounds to challenge his extradition. However, in its reply to the government, the Maharashtra prisons department has said cell no. 12 in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail is designed for high-profile prisoners and would meet the conditions that would be raised in the treaty if Mallya is extradited to India. Other than Arthur Road jail, the barracks in Taloja on the outskirts of Mumbai can also house special prisoners, the department has said.
The prisons department’s reply comes after the state home department forwarded to it a query it had received from the Ministry of Home Affairs earlier this month. “We had already sent our reply stating that lodging Mallya won’t be a problem. There are cells in Arthur Road that have been built for housing high-profile prisoners. Other than Arthur Road, Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai is also very well equipped to lodge a special prisoner and could meet with the conditions raised in the treaty,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
The Maharashtra government had built a bomb-proof, bullet-proof barrack inside Arthur Road jail to house 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab. After Kasab was executed, the barrack now houses alleged 26/11 mastermind Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal. According to sources, this barrack is reserved for criminals facing terror charges and those who have a threat perception and can also pose a threat to the jail. “We have other cells, which are equally secured,” said the official.
A senior official from the prisons department told The Indian Express that a detailed discussion on Mallya took place a few months ago, even before receiving a query from the Central government, when the reports of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) seeking Mallya’s extradition first emerged.
While lodging a prisoner being extradited, said the sources, the conditions of the extradition cannot be breached. The conditions include how and where the accused should be lodged. “This is not the first time that we are dealing with prisoners who have been extradited and lodged in our prisons. In their cases, we have met all the condition listed in the treaty. Similarly, in the case of Mallya, we had discussed all that was required to be done in the eventuality of him being brought to India,” said an official.
According to the government sources, senior officials also inspected barrack number 12 at the Arthur Road jail to assess the conditions. “The treaty would require us to have a barrack with particular size specifications. Cell 12 in Arthur Road would be able to meet such specifications. As far as providing facilities goes, those would be under the realm of the treaty agreed between the two parties,” said the official.
Another senior official said the department could seek permission from the court to produce Mallya through video-conferencing if needed. “The agencies could always ask the court to produce Mallya through video-conferencing. This will ensure he is secured and we don’t need to press additional manpower to ferry him to courts,” he said.