On the first day of the trial against six staffers of the Byculla women’s jail for the alleged murder of inmate Manjula Shetye, the defence sought permission to visit the jail premises, including the barracks, where she had been lodged.
On Thursday, the prosecution brought the first witness in the Mumbai sessions court, an interior decorator who had drawn a map of the jail premises where the alleged assault on Shetye took place on June 23 last year. The witness described the dimensions of the barracks and the map he had drawn was exhibited before the court.
Six defence advocates representing as many accused moved a plea stating that since they would not get a sense of the place only based on the description of the jail, they should be permitted to access the premises for inspection allowing them to defend their clients better. As a usual practice, many defence advocates visit spots of alleged offences to understand the case against their clients and be able to cross-examine witnesses with specific information and point out discrepancies.
The court conducting the trial said since the superintendent of the jail is the custodian of the premises, his permission will be necessary to access it. The court said since no submission of any communication was made by the defence advocates to show that they had approached the jail authorities to access the prison premises prior to make a plea before the court, it cannot allow the plea.
It also said that a plea can be made before the superintendent by the defence advocates directly on which the former can decide on the basis of existing prison rules. The defence advocates contended that they are not permitted to enter the premises and that their usual meetings with the undertrial clients are also held in a separate mulaqat room within the premises but not in the barracks.
The court said the advocates can again approach the court after they get a response from the jail authorities.
Earlier, during his examination-in-chief by the special public prosecutor, Vidya Kasle, the witness told the court that in July last year, he had received a call from the investigating officer of the case asking his assistance to draw a map of the jail premises. After he agreed, he was taken to Byculla jail premises on July 30, 2017. The witness then described before the court the dimensions of the women’s section within the prison, including the ground floor where the alleged assault took place and the barracks five on the first floor where Shetye’s condition worsened after the alleged assault.
He said he had prepared a map based on his survey through a software and handed it over to the police. He identified the map attached to the chargesheet to be the one he had prepared. The witness also deposed on the location of the CCTV footage on the jail premises. The case relies on statements of co-inmates of Shetye and other evidence, including CCTV footages.
Six staffers, jailor Manisha Pokharkar, and prison guards, Vasima Shaikh, Bindu Naikode, Surekha Kakad, Shital Shengaonkar and Arti Shingane, are facing trial under sections120 B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 201 (destruction of evidence) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code. All six are in custody in Thane jail after their bail applications were rejected by the court.