The Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to install video conferencing facilities in all courts in the state by the end of March 2017. These directions came while the division bench of Justices VM Kanade and Nutan Sardesai was a hearing a criminal PIL filed in 2011 after court took suo-motu cognizance of a letter written by Shaikh Abdul Naeem, one of the accused in the Aurangabad Arms Haul case.
Naeem’s letter alleged that he was not being produced before the concerned sessions/special court because of non-availability of police personnel to escort him. Slowly, during the course of the hearing then Public Prosecutor PA Pol had submitted before the bench former Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Ranjana Desai in 2011, that while there is shortage of escort personnel, underutilization of video conferencing facilities is a significant problem.
While the court has time and again passed directions in the last five years to ensure installation of video conferencing facilities, progress has been slow. Out of the 2200 places in the state consisting of lower courts, police stations, tribunals, industrial courts etc, only 258 have this facility.
Court today said that the state government does not have any shortage of funds and the exercise of producing an accused before the courts is a costly one for the state. Referring to a study conducted by the Maharashtra Judicial Academy the bench said that the main reason for delay in disposal of cases is non-production of the accused before the concerned court. "This non-production of the accused is mainly because of lack of police personnel to escort the accused or non-availability of transportation" the court said.
Court has also sought to know from the state the stages of criminal prosecution at which the accused can be produced via video conferencing. SR Nargolkar who is appearing for the High Court administration in this case also made submissions in this regard. He said- “At some stages the court may feel presence of the accused is necessary. The accused/undertrial may not be able to speak against the jail administration or other inmates during a video conference but in front of a magistrate he is more likely to.”
On the amount of time allotted to the state government for compliance of this order and how much time it may take, Nargolkar said- “It’s a long drawn process, once they(state government) indicate that they have to do this we(HC admin) will have to give them a requisition formally then they will have to obtain licenses from National Informatics Centre(NIC).”
Previously the bench had pointed towards the state’s own submission that if such a facility is installed, the government would save Rs.15 lakh every day.
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