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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Bhima Koregaon case: Taloja prison officials seek transfer of accused, say they are giving ‘false complaints’ to put pressure

Lawyers of the accused have said that while transfer of prisoners is an administrative issue, the ground cited is malicious.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
Updated: June 30, 2021 5:06:31 am
Clockwise from top right: Gautam Navlakha, Stan Swamy, Hany Babu, and Anand Teltumbde. The four are among the nine activists arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case. (Express)

More than a year after the male accused in the Bhima Koregaon case were transferred to Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai, the prison officials have sought to transfer them to another jail in Mumbai on the ground that they through their lawyers and kin are giving “false complaints” to put pressure on the jail administration.

The accused’s lawyers have said that while transfer of prisoners is an administrative issue, the ground given to transfer the accused is malicious.

The Pune Police had arrested nine persons, including seven men in 2018. They were lodged in Yerwada Central Prison till February 2020 and then transferred to Mumbai after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case.

The male accused were first taken to Mumbai Central Prison(or the Arthur Road Jail) before being transferred to Taloja jail. The NIA arrested seven others last year, including six men.

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.

Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy and Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu are admitted to private hospitals 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.

Prison superintendent Kaustubh Kurlekar confirmed that a transfer has been sought and that the court had allowed the plea.

In communication to the state’s prison department and the special NIA court over the past three months, the prison superintendent had said “Bhima Koregaon and Elgaar Parishad” accused, through their lawyers and relatives, have been giving “false complaints” to the media to create pressure on the jail. They should, therefore, be transferred to another prison in the state or the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, it stated.

The communication included instances like a statement issued by Navlakha’s partner that a parcel containing a new pair of spectacles sent to the jail after his glasses were stolen in December last year was not accepted, and the submission by Swamy’s lawyers before court that he was not given access to his sipper causing him difficulty as he suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“These instances highlight the conditions in jails. While transfer is an administrative issue, if this is given as a ground for transfer that we are making false complaints, it is deeply disturbing and malicious. They are among the few prisoners, who because of their background, have access to lawyers who can voice the denial of basic amenities which they are entitled to as a part of their fundamental rights. By highlighting these problems, it is expected that the overall prison conditions improve for every prisoner and not just for them,” said Payoshi Roy, who represents Navlakha.

Lawyer Susan Abraham, representing Teltumbde and Wilson, said the ground given by the jail is not as per the jail manual. “Through various delegations and communication, the issues faced by prisoners, regarding their health or lack of basic facilities, have been highlighted before the prison department, state ministers and the courts. The response to this cannot be transferring the prisoners on such a ground,” she said.

In letters to the Maharashtra Chief Minister and the rights commission, and petitions before the court, the family members have spoken about their worry about the medical assistance that would be available to the prison inmates should they contract Covid-19.

In May, Babu’s family had said he has developed an acute eye infection affecting his vision. The family’s statement had said that due to an acute shortage of water, he “did not have access to clean water to even bathe and was forced to dress his eye with soiled towels”. He soon tested positive for Covid-19 and was shifted to a hospital for further treatment on orders of the Bombay High Court.

Family members of Rao, too, had submitted before the court regarding his deteriorating health condition. The High Court was informed about the lack of medical facilities, including medical professionals with only ayurvedic doctors available.

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