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Friday, February 26, 2021

Mumbai: Jail visits for prisoners’ kin, lawyers resume after almost a year

From March 18 last year, prisons across the state had suspended ‘mulaqats’ -- as prison visits are called in Maharashtra -- due to the pandemic. Officials said that to control the crowd, only one member of a family will be initially allowed to meet an inmate.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
February 13, 2021 2:26:07 am
The prison officials had bought over 70 smartphones for use across 45 jails to temporarily replace physical mulaqats. (Express File)

NEARLY A year after physical visits to prisons by family members and lawyers of inmates were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, prisons in Maharashtra have restarted them.

With this, the prison department has also decided to discontinue the video-calling facility provided in jails during the pandemic. The sessions court in a recent order, however, has directed the jail superintendent of Byculla women’s prison to allow an undertrial to continue access to phone calls from jail after she submitted that her parents have co-morbidities and cannot visit her with the pandemic still on. The court said that the pandemic is under control but not “completely obviated”.

From March 18 last year, prisons across the state had suspended ‘mulaqats’ — as prison visits are called in Maharashtra — due to the pandemic. While there was no common circular issued by the prison department, each prison superintendent had taken a decision after a surge in cases began in cities.

Currently, while ‘mulaqats’ have resumed in Pune’s Yerwada jail and the Byculla women’s prison from last week, other jails including Mumbai Central prison, commonly known as Arthur Road jail, and Taloja Central prison are likely to resume visits from next week onwards.

Taloja jail authorities have already begun visits of lawyers of undertrials. Officials said that to control the crowd, only one member of a family will be initially allowed to meet an inmate. Other restrictions including the number of visitors in a day will also be decided based on the total strength of the jail.

“We have not issued a common direction for all to resume mulaqats but each superintendent has been instructed to take a decision based on the situation in their area in consultation with the civic and health officials,” said additional director general of police (prisons) Sunil Ramanand.

He added that in prisons where the mulaqats are resumed, video-calling facilities are being stopped since they were a temporary arrangement. During the pandemic, inmates were allowed to speak with family members through video-calls.

The prison officials had bought over 70 smartphones for use across 45 jails to temporarily replace physical mulaqats. Phone call facility was also not common across jails in the state before the pandemic.

Khushi Sahjwani, an accused in the murder case of B-Blunt employee, Kirti Vyas, moved a plea this week that during the pandemic she was being allowed to make phone calls to her parents once a week. Her plea said that since physical mulaqats had resumed, jail authorities were not permitting the calls now.

She sought to continue with them stating that her parents are old with severe co-morbidities and hence will not be safe for them to visit her. “This submission has some substance, as admittedly pandemic is under control, however it is not completely obviated and persons who are advanced age are more prone to the pandemic,” the court said.

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