Updated: July 8, 2021 2:18:50 pm
Taloja jail superintendent Kaustubh Kurlekar was transferred in a recent order by the Maharashtra prison department. The prison, set up in 2008 as an alternative to the severely crowded Mumbai Central prison (popularly known as Arthur Road jail), is one of the largest in the state with undertrials including the male accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and Ambani terror scare case lodged there. The transfer came days after Kurlekar wrote to a special court seeking that the Bhima Koregaon case accused be shifted to another prison alleging that they were giving “false information” to create pressure on the jail administration.
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Where is Taloja jail?
Taloja Central Prison was set up in 2008 in Raigad district as an alternative to the Mumbai Central Prison which housed most of the undertrials in cases of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and was usually crowded over three times its capacity. Spread over 27 hectares, the large open space in the jail surrounded by mountains was to also serve in segregating rival gangs which often led to conflicts in other city prisons. While the jail was to be at the outskirts of a city, over the years, the area has become an extended suburb of the satellite city of Navi Mumbai. It has a capacity of 2124 inmates, all of them male and mostly undertrials.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, while all other city jails were closed, Taloja jail was the only prison in MMR to continue to take new inmates till it reached beyond its maximum capacity and had over 3000 inmates. While other jails in the city have reported a high number of Covid-19 infections, Taloja has had 35 cases. It also had three deaths. It houses undertrials including dismissed cops held in the Ambani terror scare case- Sachin Waze, Riyaz Kazi, Sunil Mane and Vinayak Shinde along with retired cop Pradeep Sharma. It also has among its inmates Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor and gangster Abu Salem, who is serving life imprisonment.
Why had the superintendent sought to shift the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case to another jail?
When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the Bhima Koregaon case from the Pune police, all the accused lodged in Yerwada Central Prison were shifted to Mumbai. The male accused were initially kept at Mumbai Central prison before they were shifted to Taloja in February last year.
Currently, Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor are lodged in Taloja Central Jail. Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu is admitted to a private hospital for treatment and Varavara Rao is on interim bail for six months. The women accused, Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj and Jyoti Jagtap are lodged at Byculla Women’s Jail.
Over the past year during the Covid-19, many accused including in this case, have highlighted the lack of medical facilities across state jails. Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy’s lawyers had told a court last year that he was not provided with a sipper he was carrying at the time of his arrest by the NIA and that he was facing difficulty in sipping water as his hands trembled due to Parkinson’s disease. Swamy, who was also admitted to a private hospital for treatment, passed away on Monday.
The prison superintendent had then said that the 84-year old was provided a sipper, walker, walking stick and other facilities. Similarly, Babu’s family members had said in May that he had developed an acute eye infection affecting his vision and since there was no specialised doctor at the jail, the delay in taking him for a consultation was aggravating his condition. Babu was eventually taken to a hospital, where his test showed him to be positive for Covid-19. It was claimed that due to shortage of water in the jail, he did not have access to clean water and was forced to dress his eye with soiled towels. The jail authorities had denied that there was any shortage of water but the High Court had expressed concern over the lack of medical facilities after it was brought to its notice that the prison only had three ayurvedic doctors and medical posts were vacant across state jails.
Citing certain reports, the superintendent had written to the special court over the past few months and said that the accused were spreading “false information” through their kin and lawyers and sought to shift them. The court allowed the transfer but the accused are still to be shifted. The lawyers of the accused said that while seeking to shift the accused was an administrative decision, the ground given by the superintendent was “malicious” and that they had only highlighted the lack of basic facilities.
Why was the superintendent transferred?
Senior prison officials said that Kurlekar was moved to another department as part of an administrative shuffle without calling it a “transfer”. Officials said that he was posted to a prison in Washim district with an additional charge of Taloja jail. The order last week has now attached him to a post at the Inspector General’s office. Last year, the prison department had sought to transfer him to another district but it was stalled after he approached the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal which stayed the transfer.
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