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Delhi HC asks Tihar Jail if physical meeting between inmates, family members can be allowed during pandemic

The court was hearing Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal and Devanaga Kalita, who are accused in the alleged larger conspiracy case of northeast Delhi riots.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: April 13, 2021 8:32:15 pm
The ‘physical mulaqat’ at prisons in Delhi have been suspended in wake of the rising number of Covid cases in the national capital. (File)

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday heard Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal and Devanaga Kalita, who are accused in the alleged larger conspiracy case of northeast Delhi riots, directly from Tihar Jail regarding problems being faced by inmates in prisons. The court asked authorities whether physical meetings with family members can be permitted on request of undertrial prisoners once a week even during the pandemic after ensuring that those coming to meet wear masks and PPE gear.

The court also asked authorities to inform it about steps that can be taken to make the computer centre at Tihar Jail operational for prisoners to have a limited access to websites which give information relating to FIRs and the courts’ portals. It also sought instructions from the jail authorities regarding facilities available at the legal aid centre, where lawyers draft petitions on behalf of prisoners.

The ‘physical mulaqat’ at prisons in Delhi have been suspended in wake of the rising number of Covid cases in the national capital, and prisoners are only allowed ‘e-mulaqat’ with family members thrice a month for 15 minutes each. Earlier they would be allowed eight physical meetings a month for 30 minute each. The court on Tuesday suggested that the e-mulaqat can be increased to four a month so that prisoners can avail the opportunity once a week.

Narwal told the court that the computer centre is not functional at the prison. Kalita told the court that regular contact with family members is essential for prisoners and due to the digital divide in the country, family members of many inmates do not have smartphones. “Right now there is so much unemployment and loss of livelihood, their families do not have money to buy data packs. Such kind of minimal basic physical mulaqat should be made available for them,” she submitted before the court.

Kalita also submitted before the court that the process of getting the permission to have a daily phone call for five minutes is very tedious and requires a postpaid connection on the other side, which “inmates who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are unable to procure”.

“There are inmates whose families cannot access e-mulaqat and do not even have money to travel to physically visit, but at least have a small phone with them,” she told the court, while seeking a diversity of options for contacting the families.

Among a number of prayers, the two activists in their petition have sought a permanent facility of e-mulaqat or video conferencing from jail to allow prisoners to interact with their family and friends equal in timing of the physical mulaqat. They also have sought access to doctors, therapists and other medical professionals for prisoners. In addition, they also want access to resource persons and other professionals through video conferencing for completing education. The duo have cited their own experience in jail, where they have been in custody since last year pending trial.

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