Three accused in the Elgaar Parishad case said they were being denied access to books over the past few months in jail. In separate applications made before the special court on Tuesday, Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu and academician Gautam Navlakha said for the past four months, books sent to them from outside by family members were not accepted by authorities of Taloja jail and were returned.
The two have also said they did not get access to newspapers for the past six months stating that it is a violation of their right to remain informed. Lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, who is lodged in Byculla women’s jail, also made a similar plea. While she is being provided newspapers, she too has said the prison library does not have enough books and those from outside are not being allowed.
Authorities, however, said books were not being denied to prisoners while Taloja jail said a cautious approach was being taken over resuming newspapers in jails due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a decision would be made soon.
The applications made by the three state that as writers and academicians, they had spent a lifetime reading, studying books and texts and the denial of books could not be arbitrary. Referring to the state’s prison manual, they have sought permission to access five books a month from outside with directions to jail authorities to accept books sent to them by their family and lawyers.
“Further, ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) guidelines and other studies state that the virus does not survive on surfaces and, hence, books are not a Covid-19 carrier. Therefore, there is no danger posed by any of the books… as far as newspapers are concerned, they are a basic human right…” stated the applications of Navlakha and Babu. Bharadwaj’s lawyer submitted that when she approached the jail superintendent of Byculla, she was asked to bring the order from the court.
Kaustubh Kurlekar, Taloja jail superintendent, said books sent by post were not being denied. “We are not denying books to prisoners from outside or those in our library. We sanitise them and give them to prisoners. We are in the process of taking a decision on delivery of newspapers in the jail since the current population of the prison is over 5,000, much more than its capacity of 2,124 prisoners and there are apprehensions of a second wave of the virus,” he said.
Byculla jail superintendent Sadanand Gaikwad also denied that a court order was sought when Bharadwaj approached him. He added that newspapers were being provided to prisoners.
“In view of Rule 13 of the Maharashtra Prison Manual, it is within the province of the superintendent of prison to allow such activities. Hence, the advocate for the applicant is called upon to place on record an affidavit stating that she had approached the prison authorities and that the same had refused to accept the books,” the court said on Tuesday.
The rules say prisoners not convicted can purchase or obtain “such number of books as the superintendent considers reasonable”. Rules referred by the three in their pleas state that convicted prisoners are allowed to possess 10 non-religious books.
Since March, prison visits from lawyers and family have been discontinued due to the pandemic. Family members said books, including titles like P G Wodehouse, poetry and novels, were sent through post and returned without being opened.
Another application was filed by Bharadwaj seeking for National Investigation Agency to withdraw defamatory allegations made against her in a reply filed before court to another application.
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