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Jail officials cannot refuse books sent for prisoners, but should check content: Mumbai Court

The observation was made in the detailed order passed by the special court earlier this month allowing lawyer activist Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case, access to five books per month at Byculla women’s jail where she is lodged.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
January 28, 2021 2:09:33 am
Bombay hc, POCSO Act , What is POCSO Act, rape act, indian express newsThe facts of the case before the special court are similar to the one decided by the Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench on January 19. (Representational)

A SPECIAL court has said that jail authorities cannot refuse to accept books sent for prisoners though they are expected to go through the contents to ensure there is no “objectionable material”.

The observation was made in the detailed order passed by the special court earlier this month allowing lawyer activist Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case, access to five books per month at Byculla women’s jail where she is lodged.

“… it is for the Superintendent prison to take appropriate decision and if he finds that the book contains objectionable material, because it preaches violence, it may be vulgar or obscene or it may be pornographic, he is within his power to reject the prayer. At that stage, it is expected from him to take wise decision after going through the contents of the book, but he is not supposed to refuse to accept the book,” the court said.

Along with the plea filed by Bharadwaj seeking access to books in jail, an affidavit was filed before the court stating that someone known to her had been to the Byculla jail on January 11 with a parcel containing two kurtas and a book titled “Empire of Cotton: A Global History” by author Sven Beckert. The affidavit said that while the jail authorities had accepted the kurtas, they had refused to accept the book.

The special court considered a previous judgment of the Bombay High Court dating back to 1963 in a case involving trade unionist and former Union minister George Fernandes. The High Court had then said the only ground on which a book may be withheld from a detenue is on the decision of the Superintendent that it is unsuitable.

“The Superintendent shall carefully examine the books and if, they contain objectionable material, which preaches violence, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or the material propagating the banned organisation namely Revolutionary Democratic Front or CPI (Maoist), in that in that case he shall not allow the applicant to accept such books,” the special court said in its order.

Bharadwaj and co-accused activist Gautam Navlakha and Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu had filed separate pleas before the court stating that as writers, academicians, they have spent a lifetime reading, studying books and texts and the denial of books cannot be arbitrary.

On the applications filed by Navlakha and Babu, the court said that their relatives “may approach the prison authority for delivery of books to them”. In affidavits filed before through court by relatives of the two, it was claimed that parcels containing books sent from Delhi to the Taloja jail were refused with the endorsement “Covid Suraksha”. The court said that the jail authority had not committed any “unjust” act by refusing the parcel citing security issues as the parcels were not physically handed over to the jail by relatives or lawyers of the two.

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