27 April 2022 4:11 AM GMT
A little belated as Covid-19 related restrictions have eased in prisons, but the Bombay High Court expressed disappointment that books weren't treated as essential commodities for prison inmates during the pandemic, just like medicines and vegetables. Prison officials could've allowed inmates to accept book parcels by placing it in the category of essential items, "but that...
Prison officials could've allowed inmates to accept book parcels by placing it in the category of essential items, "but that did not happen" the HC observed in the order refusing house custody to senior journalist Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad caste violence case.
"Covid pandemic was a period of distress, isolation and nervousness for most of the people, and more so for the jail inmates. During such terrible times, nothing more could have provided solace to a jail inmate than a book of his choice.
Therefore, if Covid protocol demanded rejection of outside parcel… the books also could have been looked upon as essential commodities, just like medicines and hence worthy of acceptance, subject to prescribed procedure. But, that did not happen," division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and GA Sanap observed.
The bench was referring to the rejection of a parcel containing world renowned humourist PG Wodehouse's book named "World of Jeeves and Wooster." The parcel was sent by Navlakha's family to him in Taloja central prison in August 2020.
It was only later that the book was allowed following a court order. The Wodehouse incident was cited as an example by Advocate Yug Chaudhry to highlight the suppression of basic rights inside prison.
The State prison officials defended their actions by saying that the Covid protocol was in operation and, therefore, the outside parcels sent to prisoners were not accepted.
"Even though this may be true, we find that outright rejection of a parcel containing book by a humorist on such a ground was not proper…The general rule was of rejection but exceptions to general rule permitted acceptance of essential items from out-side, like grocery, vegetables, toiletries, medicines etc. subject to procedure of sanitation."
Noting that wisdom dawned upon the jail authorities belatedly, as the book was eventually handed over the bench did not consider it necessary to issue any further directions in this matter. However, since this incident the HC has been diverting costs imposed on several litigants for the betterment of the prison library.
Regarding refusal of house custody, the SC had observed that in appropriate cases it will be open to Courts to order house arrest based on criteria like age, health condition, antecedents of the accused, the nature of crime. The need for other forms of custody and the ability to enforce the terms of the house arrest, would be some of the indicative factors.
However the bench observed that, "the gravity of crime is the most important factor while considering the prayer for bail or the prayer for house custody." In our opinion, considering the gravity and serious nature of the crime, the petitioner does not qualify for his detention under house arrest."
The court said that Navlakha's apprehension that he will not be provided medical aid and his life would be miserable in unhygienic conditions and atmosphere of the prison seems to be ill-founded.
Navlakha's counsel had argued that the septuagenarian was refused even a chair in prison despite a back problem. In its order the court accepted the prison superintendent's statement that the chair could be provided only if it was recommended by the prison's medical officer, but such a recommendation was not received in this case.