Updated: July 21, 2022 3:44:16 am
The state prison authority Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it cannot allow Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgaar Parishad case booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), to make telephone calls from the prison as per the existing rules. It said that he is permitted to have physical meetings with lawyers and his kin as per law or write letters to them.
The state government counsel informed the court that persons booked under serious charges, including terrorism, cannot avail telephonic communication facilities.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, has accused Navlakha and his aide of being affiliated to the banned terrorist organisation CPI (Maoist).
A division bench of Justices Nitin M Jamdar and Arun R Pednekar was hearing a plea filed by Navlakha, seeking, among other things, access to a telephone at Taloja Central Jail, where he is currently lodged.
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Earlier this month, the court had asked the state prison department to “clarify whether Navlakha and other prisoners can make telephone and/or video conference calls to their family members and lawyers”. The state’s lawyer had said that while the prisons allow phone calls through coin boxes twice a week, there may be different rules for undertrial prisoners booked for “serious offences” under special laws such as the UAPA.
On Wednesday, Additional Public Prosecutor Sangeet D Shinde submitted a March 25, 2022 circular signed by the State Inspector General of Police, which said prisoners, including those facing charges of terrorism or conspiring against the nation-state and the government, are not entitled to telephonic communication.
Moreover, the prison authority may allow such a facility to prisoners under exceptional circumstances only subject to its satisfaction about the same. The authority submitted that Navlakha, who is facing terrorism charges cannot be permitted to avail coin box facility.
Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry, representing Navlakha, told the high court that telephonic conversations were allowed for nearly two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic but stopped from December 2021, when physical meetings were allowed. He added that due to such restrictions, Navlakha is not allowed to speak over the phone to his senior citizen partner, who is in Delhi, and cannot call lawyers as well.
Chaudhry added that denying access to phone calls to Navlakha was in violation of the fundamental right to life with dignity.
Shinde responded that the state prison manual prescribed making available “reasonable facilities” for communication to inmates and Navlakha has the option of writing letters and physical meetings are also allowed for all inmates.
The bench pointed out that since the proceedings before it was an appeal against the special NIA court order refusing telephonic communication to Navlakha, it would not be looking at the validity of the circular and would decide on the special court order itself.
It said Navlakha can file fresh proceedings in case he wanted to challenge the circular. The court will hear the plea next on August 2. A bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta will hear on July 28 a PIL filed by People’s Union of Civil Liberties, seeking immediate installation of telephones and other electronic modes of communication in all prisons so that inmates can speak to their lawyers and relatives via video and voice-calling facilities.
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