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"Is Humour Banished From Jail? Even Secondary School Will Have More Books" : Bombay High Court On Scanty Book Collection In Prison Library

Sharmeen Hakim
5 April 2022 3:21 PM GMT
Is Humour Banished From Jail? Even Secondary School Will Have More Books : Bombay High Court On Scanty Book Collection In Prison Library
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The Bombay High Court on Tuesday remarked that even a secondary school would have more books than the 2,800 books provided to prison inmates in Taloja Central Prison. The court stressed on the importance of books for reformation of prisoners and suggested that costs imposed by courts could be used for enriching prison libraries. The bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and GA...

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday remarked that even a secondary school would have more books than the 2,800 books provided to prison inmates in Taloja Central Prison.

The court stressed on the importance of books for reformation of prisoners and suggested that costs imposed by courts could be used for enriching prison libraries.

The bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and GA Sanap observed thus while hearing senior journalist - Gautam Navlakha's plea to shift him from Taloja prison and place him under house arrest owing to his poor health and prison conditions.

When the state's prosecutor Sangeeta Shinde informed the bench that Navlakha couldn't be given PG Wodehouse's book because it was not available, but there were 2,850 other books, the court said,

"Is humor banished from jail?...Also, this is quite less. Even a secondary school would have more books. If there aren't enough of books, something can be done by the bar or by the court. Because access to books is very important. It is an important step towards reformation of prison inmates."

The court was miffed at the State's submission that Wodehouse's book was denied to Navlakha by the postal department due to Covid protocols last year and not because it was a security concern even as the latter reason was mentioned.

Justice Shukre said - "Is this the reason stated for returning the articles? Have you seen the documents filed on record?Because according to us "suraksha" would mean security reasons. Where is covid mentioned? There is no need for us to ask you all these questions. ....it's better not to point out your contradictions. You are trying to justify something that is not even there in the additional reply."

The bench was referring to an additional affidavit filed by the State on Tuesday dealing with specific allegations made by Navlakha. It was filed after the HC came down heavily on the prison officials on Monday for their callous attitude.

Referring to the affidavit Shinde said that Navlakha was kept in a high security cell, alone, with an enclosed washroom. Of the 100 such cells available at Taloja, 33 inmates were placed there. These inmates have to clean their own toilets and cells, she said.

Regarding Navlakha's apprehension about cancer running in his family, the affidavit states that the lump in his chest is benign and "cancer is not hereditary".

"I made a big mistake by opposing the State's present affidavit. It does me the greatest favour. If anything shows their attitude towards prisoners, it's this," advocate Yug Chaudhry said.

The bench was also concerned if the district judge is allowed to meet the prisoners in these solitary cells, to which the state said they are.

NIA's arguments

Meanwhile opposing Navlakha's prayer for house arrest, ASG Anil Singh submitted that this was not correct stage or forum. He claimed that the grounds were general and there would be the practical difficulty of implementing house arrest.

He cited Navlakha's pending bail application on merits before the trial court, and earlier rejections of his medical bail plea despite citing his age.

"There are thousands of jail inmates above 70 and they are also suffering from several ailments. That doesn't mean that a person who is accused of serious allegations seeks house arrest," he argued.

He said that providing guards for 2-3 shifts would be an issue. Moreover, at home Navlakha would have access to his mobile phone."All of this has to do with safety and security," he said.

The ASG argued that Navlakha simply wanted to bypass the twin conditions for bail under section 45(D) of UAPA.

"It will be very difficult for the state and the Union (If house arrest is granted)..he was very comfortable in house arrest. Therefore, everytime he wants house arrest," Singh argued.

Navlakha's argument

Advocate Yug Chaudhry assisted by Advocate Payoshi Roy for Navlakha first responded to bench's query regarding the mechanics of house arrest.

"One is the criteria for granting house arrest and second is the conditions for house arrest. The criteria is laid out in the SC's judgement itself."

Chaudhry submits that Navlakha fulfills all criteria including poor health, no antecedents etc.

As for the second query, Chaudhry said it could be on the same condition as what was granted by the Delhi HC when Navlakha was arrested.

He said there could be two prison guards for which he would bear part of the cost, no visitors and contact only with family and lawyers.

Addressing the concern of the court being flooded with similar petitions, Chaudhry said that as per NCRB data only there are 1,874 prisoners in Maharashtra over 50.

"In my estimate, only 20% would be above 70...no need to fear the floodgates," he said.


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