Journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case, informed his lawyers and family members on Saturday that a school in Kharghar set up as a temporary jail where inmates were being kept was in a ‘deplorable condition’. Navlakha spoke to his partner Sahba Husain and a lawyer on the phone after permission from a special court on Saturday. Last month, he was shifted from Tihar jail in Delhi to Mumbai and has since been kept in the school as new inmates are being quarantined before being shifted to the Taloja central jail to avoid an outbreak inside.
Husain said that she spoke to Navlakha after a gap of 15 days. “He (Navalkha) said that 350 inmates have been kept in six classrooms with only three toilets, seven urinals and one common bathing space without a mug or a bucket. He is sharing a room with 35 others,” Husain said.
She added that many inmates were sleeping in the corridor without any access to fresh air and were prone to skin infections due to the overcrowding apart from the fear of Covid-19. “I am very anxious about his health after hearing about the conditions and the risk for him and others. This is sheer punishment and inhuman treatment of a political prisoner like him,” she said. She added that there was no information being provided to the inmates who are cut off from the outside world altogether.
Last month, the state prison department had sought for setting up of temporary jails as an arrangement to lodge new inmates before sending them to jails. While the initial decision was to keep new inmates for a period of 21 days and then shift them to the central jails after conducting screening, inmates from the Kharghar school have not been shifted to the central jail even after the 21-day period is over.
A prison department official said that a decision is yet to be taken on shifting the inmates who have completed the quarantine to the jail. Currently, there are 321 inmates at the school lodged in six classrooms. The jail currently has 2112 inmates with a capacity of 2124. The prison department informed the Bombay High Court that two inmates who died at Taloja central jail, one of whom committed suicide, had tested positive, test results after their deaths showed.
An official denied allegations about the condition of the temporary jail stating that it has been set up as per the requirements of the jail manual. Temporary jails have been set up across the state after allotment of spaces by district collectors. “We have so far not received any complaint about the inadequacy of toilets or bathrooms. The facilities have been set up as per the request made by the prison department,” said Raigad collector Nidhi Choudhari. She added that the school management has requested for return of the premises by the end of the month and a decision regarding shifting the inmates will be taken accordingly. Ten other accused in the case have been lodged in Taloja jail including 81-year old poet Varavara Rao, who had last month been rushed to the hospital after falling unconscious in the jail.
Thane jail staffers test positive
Four staffers of the Thane jail have tested positive for Covid-19. Inspector General (prisons) Deepak Pandey said that other staff members who had come in contact with the infected staffers are being quarantined as high-risk contacts. He added that no inmates have been termed as high-risk contacts of the four infected staffers. The additional director general of prisons, Sunil Ramanand had told the Bombay High Court last week that the Thane jail is grossly overcrowded. Last month, a Thane jail guard and a pregnant inmate had also tested positive.
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