On the day that a UK court asked Indian authorities Tuesday to submit a video of the cell at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai where they plan to keep Vijay Mallya post-extradition, the Maharashtra prisons department contested the embattled liquor baron’s claims that there was no natural light or fresh air in Indian jails.
Mallya, wanted by agencies on fraud charges, appeared before the court in London where both the defence and prosecution presented clarifications on Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where he is to be held. After hearing the arguments, Judge Emma Arbuthnot asked Indian authorities to submit within three weeks a video of the Barrack 12 of the Arthur Road Jail and set September 12 as the date of the next hearing.
The judge asked Indian authorities to submit a “step by step video” of Barrack 12 for “the avoidance of doubt” over the availability of natural light in the cell where the 62-year-old businessman is expected to be detained pre-trial, during trial and in the event he is convicted by the Indian courts. “I would like a video of Barrack 12, to see where the windows are… shot maybe at mid-day with no artificial lighting,” the judge said.
As he arrived in court, Mallya said the allegations against him were “false” and reiterated his offer to settle dues to the Karnataka High Court. “Now that the assets are before the court, I am in the hands of the court; I hope this will all end. At the end of the day, the courts will decide,” he told reporters outside the court.
Mallya’s defence team, led by Clare Montgomery, focused its objections on the lack of natural light available in Barrack 12 and claimed that the “government of India assurance cannot be relied upon”. “The photos show natural light flooding into the cell. But our (expert’s) assessment is that it is very difficult to work out where the light was coming from. Whatever the light is, is not natural light,” said Montgomery.
While Mallya’s defence team insisted on an inspection of the jail cell, the CPS stressed that the Indian government had provided “adequate material” which rendered the need for an inspection unnecessary. Sources in the Maharashtra prisons department said that they would shoot a video according to the directives of the court and the Centre. “We have learnt that Judge Emma Arbuthnot has asked for a ‘step by step video’ of Barrack 12 for ‘the avoidance of doubt’ over the availability of natural light and ventilation in the cell where Mallya would be lodged both during the pretrial and also in the event of his conviction. We will shoot the video as per the court’s directives and send it to the required authorities,” said a senior official.
Another senior official of the prisons department told The Indian Express that even before receiving a query from the Centre, a detailed discussion on the possible lodging of Mallya in the jail took place earlier this year when reports of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) seeking Mallya’s extradition first emerged.
In the past, the Maharashtra prisons department has attached photographs of cells where Mallya could be lodged. They have also provided maps and diagrams giving the layout of cells including its size, width and length.
Details such as a separate western-style commode attached to the cell, sanitation and hygiene maintained at the cell have also been indicated along with drinking water supply and the access of prisoners to tap water and RO-fitted drinking water dispensers.
Presently, Peter Mukherjea on trail for the murder of his step-daughter, Sheena Bora and Vipul Ambani, president (finance) of Firestar International, in judicial custody for his role in the alleged Rs 13,600 crore fraud at the Punjab National Bank, are two high profile accused currently lodged at Barrack 12. NCP leader, Chhagan Bhujbal and his nephew Samir Bhujbal, who recently got bail in a money laundering case, were also lodged in Barrack 12.
The prison authority has also suggested that they would gladly host a delegation from the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) if they wanted to visit the Arthur Road jail. “We had attached over a dozen of photographs of the cell along with the details of the barrack number 12 at the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai where he could be lodged. There are four cells which are still unoccupied in the barrack and are meant for high-profile prisoners. In our reply, we have stated that one of these cells could house Mallya. The cells will meet the condition laid down in the treaty,” said a senior official.
“The delegation can inspect for themselves the conditions of the jail and see if it meets the security and other requirements as per the extradition treaty in the event that Mallya is sent back to India,” said a senior Home Department official.
Another source said that when lodging a prisoner brought back to the country on an extradition treaty, the conditions of the extradition cannot be breached. “This is not the first time that we are dealing with prisoners who have been extradited and lodged in our prisons. In their cases, we have met all the conditions listed in the treaty. Similarly, in Mallya’s case we have discussed all that is required to be done in the eventuality of him being brought to India,” said an official.
According to sources, senior officials also inspected barrack number 12 at the Arthur Road jail to assess the conditions of the cells. “The treaty will require us to have a barrack of particular size specifications. Cell 12 in Arthur Road will be able to meet such specifications. As far as providing facilities goes, they will be under the realm of the treaty agreed between the two parties,” sources said.
An official also said that they can seek permission from the court to produce Mallya through video conferencing. “Mallya can be produced through video conferencing. This will ensure security,” the official said.
In the ongoing extradition proceedings, if the judge rules in favour of the Indian government, the UK home secretary will have two months to sign Mallya’s extradition order. However, both sides will have the chance to appeal in higher courts in the UK against the Magistrates’ Court verdict.