January 14, 2022 1:18:08 am
With a surge in Covid-19 cases, while the prison department has stopped physical meetings again of inmates with relatives and lawyers, the phone and video call facility is yet to be resumed in many jails.
On Wednesday, undertrials in the Elgaar Parishad case — lodged in Taloja Central Prison — were produced before the special court via video conference. The accused, including lawyer Surendra Gadling as well as activists Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves, told the court that they were not able to communicate with their families and lawyers since the mulaqats have been discontinued.
Special Judge Dinesh E Kothalikar asked the prison authority attending the video conference why the phone and video call facility – provided to inmates during earlier curbs – have not been resumed after the recent restrictions were put in place.
The prison official told the court that they are in the process of verifying the phone numbers of relatives and lawyers, following which the facility will be resumed.
To this, the court asked, “Why do you need to verify the numbers again if they were the same ones allowed during the previous lockdowns? Those who were provided the facility during the previous lockdowns should be allowed to make phone calls with immediate effect.”
Special Judge Kothalikar told the undertrials that he would speak with the jail superintendent and give specific directions.
The prisons in the state had discontinued mulaqats in March 2020 and restarted them in October last year after the number of cases went down. The phone and video calls allowed for undertrials and convicts during the lockdown were discontinued then.
Navlakha told the court that he was not able to communicate with his partner who resides in Delhi. He said that the court should intervene on humanitarian grounds. Gadling also told the court that mulaqats with his family members and legal interviews with his lawyer have been denied. He added that with his pleas pending before the Bombay High Court, he was not allowed to give any instruction to his legal team.
Gadling’s lawyer Barun Kumar told the court that when he visited the prison recently, he was told that he cannot meet his client as he represents himself in court. Kumar added that he had submitted relevant documents, including his vakalatnama, showing that he represents Gadling, but he was not allowed to meet him.
The court disposed Kumar’s application with direction to the jail superintendent that he shall allow the legal adviser to have an interview with the undertrial in accordance to prison rules.
As the court was informed on Thursday that NIA’s special public prosecutor is down with Covid-19, the hearing was adjourned to January 21.
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