Once again,Arthur Road Jail prepares for mother of all trials

In an arrangement similar to the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts trial,the Maharashtra Government has decided to set up a court inside the Arthur Road Jail premises to hear the case of Mumbai terror attacks accused Ajmal Amir Kasab....

Written by Mustafa Plumber | Mumbai | Published:January 20, 2009 1:23 am

In an arrangement similar to the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts trial,the Maharashtra Government has decided to set up a court inside the Arthur Road Jail premises to hear the case of Mumbai terror attacks accused Ajmal Amir Kasab and three others. The objective is to avoid the risk of any untoward incident during the transportation of Kasab,the only terrorist caught alive on the night of November 26,2008.

Kasab,presently in police custody,will soon be shifted to judicial custody and lodged at the Arthur Road Jail. The police are likely to file a chargesheet against him and the other accused in court this week.

The Arthur Road Jail,formally known as the Mumbai Central Prison,was built in 1926. It is one of the oldest prisons in the city,a contemporary of the Byculla women’s jail.

The special court is being set up at barrack no 1,adjacent to the already operational TADA court which is trying extradited gangster Abu Salem for his alleged role in the 1993 serial bomb blasts case. The barrack earlier housed police officials who were deployed on bandobast duty outside the TADA court. The court,separated from the prison by a high wall,has a small entry and exit door. The entry to the court for police officials and mediapersons is from what is called the back door of the prison. The 1993 serial bomb blasts case,which was initially tried at the City Civil and Sessions court,was shifted to the Arthur Road Jail considering the enormity of the case and number of accused — over 100 accused were tried in the TADA case.

The Mahrashtra Government through a Government resolution set up the special Terrorist And Destructive Activities (Prevention) Court,which became functional on April 2,1994,with special Judge J N Patel presiding over it.

A senior police official said,“Kasab,a Pakistani national,is one of the prime accused and witnesses for India to prove the Pakistani link to terrorism here. Besides there is threat to his life from the Lashkar-e-Toiba,the terror outfit he belongs to,and the general public which is outraged after the attacks. All this makes a court inside the jail a better proposition.”

Similar apprehensions were raised in 1993 too,said lawyer Subhash Kanse who appeared in the TADA case for 14 years. “All the blast accused were said to be Dawood Ibrahim’s gang members and at that time gang rivalry was at its peak. The chances of the accused being gunned down by rival gangsters while being taken to the court were high. However,with the court inside the Arthur Road Jail,that possibility was ruled out totally,” he said.

The entry and the exit to the court are closely monitored. Heavy security,including one platoon of State Reserve Police Force (SRPF),is always stationed outside the main entrance. Mediapersons are not allowed entry without a permanent pass issued by the N M Joshi Marg police under whose jurisdiction the jail falls. A through checking is carried out at the entrance. Even pens are opened and checked to ensure no hidden cameras are carried inside. Mobile phones have to be deposited and cash over Rs 150 is not allowed inside the court.

Kasab,who will be kept at the Arthur Road Jail till the completion of the trial,may face a security threat to his life from other prison inmates too. The jail houses members of Dawood Ibrahim,Chhota Rajan gangs,besides Abu Salem and other small gang members,who might attack him.

Jail Superintendent Swati Sathe ruled out any such risk since “Kasab would be kept in the high security Anda cell and would be monitored 24×7 through CCTV cameras installed inside the cell”. Kasab would have the entire cell to himself,informed jail sources.

The jail authorities have also made elaborate arrangements to ensure that no other inmate is able to interact or even come close to Kasab. Sathe said,“Jail officials would be deputed outside Kasab’s cell to keep a personal check on him even during his everyday bathing and eating. But he will be treated like any other undertrial and provided similar food and facilities.”

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