4 April 2022 12:29 PM GMT
The Bombay High Court on Monday came down heavily on the Maharashtra Government for its callousness in dealing with serious allegations against officials of Taloja Prison, which were levelled by senior journalist Gautam Navlakha who has been imprisoned there in the Bhima Koregaon - Elgar Parishad Case.A division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and GA Sanap was informed how Navlakha was...
The Bombay High Court on Monday came down heavily on the Maharashtra Government for its callousness in dealing with serious allegations against officials of Taloja Prison, which were levelled by senior journalist Gautam Navlakha who has been imprisoned there in the Bhima Koregaon - Elgar Parishad Case.
A division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and GA Sanap was informed how Navlakha was refused spectacles, a chair and books. One of the books was authored by world renowned humorist Sir PG Wodhouse.
"Can you believe the prison officials didn't allow Gautam Navlakha a book authored by humorist PG Wodehouse? They said it's a security risk", Navlakha's lawyer Yug Mohit Chaudhry said.
"PG Wodehouse is considered a security threat? That's quite comical," Justice Shukre observed noting that renowned humorist from Maharashtra Purshottam Laxman Deshpande was inspired by Wodhouse's writing.
The book eventually reached Navlakha after the trial court's order. Regarding the spectacles, Chaudhry submitted that the request was initially denied and it is only after the family issued a press statement and the HC passed a remark that the spectacles were quickly given to him.
Chaudhry said that Navlakha has no antecedents, "not even a case for double parking." On the other hand he has a "long and illustrious career." Navlakha is a senior journalist associated the with the Economic Press Weekly, he told the court.
The septuagenarian had developed chronic back pain but was denied a chair, Chaudhry rued adding that these were important circumstances making out a case for house arrest.
The counsel read a complaint written by Navlakha, in which he wrote, "I don't want to die like Father Stan. I want to live so that I can clear my name, stand trial and prove my innocence."
Chaudhry said the trial would take years to be completed as all the forensic evidence is still not on record. Moreover, there is severe overcrowding in Taloja Prison with 2,766 inmates despite an official capacity of 2,124.
"We have seen what has happened to Father Stan. If your lordships (coordinate bench) would have not given Varavara Rao bail, he would have died. He was an inch away from death," he argued adding, "Is this how human beings are treated? This is not a concentration camp."
However, what ticked off the bench was that the prosecutor representing the Taloja Prison officials had neither dealt with the allegations in their affidavit nor was a counsel present in court.
Initially the bench was of the view that the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), incharge of the prison should be called. "This is not right. The way the State's affidavit has been filed. Allegations are not dealt with," Justice Shukre said adding, "Such reply prima facie gives an impression that whatever has been alleged is true...no one remained present to represent the state. It appears that effort is made to ensure no proper assistance is given to the court. We request the AG to look into the matter."
However, after the State Counsel Sangeeta Shinde appeared and showed her willingness to apologize in writing, the court said that it would not sign the order.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and Special Public Prosecutor Sandesh Patil for the NIA tried to salvage the situation. Patil submitted that all these incidents were irrelevant to the petition, while the ASG said that prison officials were under immense pressure during the covid- pandemic.
Justice Sanap observed that these circumstances were relied on by the petitioner for house arrest, adding that the lack of communication between the State and Central agencies was also a contributing factor.
Arguments for House Arrest
Chaudhry began his arguments on Monday referring to the Supreme Court's judgment in Navlakha's case last year where it was held that in certain appropriate cases under section 167 of the CrPC the court may order house arrest considering the accused's age, health, and antecedents.
Chaudhry reiterated that Navlakha's bail has never be rejected or decided on merits. "This is not an application for bail therefore the twin conditions under UAPA for bail would not apply. He is over 70 years of age. Most of the accused in this case are very old. He has spent over 2 years in custody."
He submitted that there was no complaint against Navlakha regarding influencing any witness or tampering with evidence when he was initially placed under house arrest by interim orders of the court.
When the bench wondered that there was no clear precedent for house arrest Chaudhry said, "The SC has given the green signal. It is for your lordships to lay down the mechanics. This is how the law develops."
He agreed that no court in India has stated the manner in which house arrest should be effected. Chaudhry prayed that his petition shouldn't be converted into a "prison reform petition" and relief may be granted.
"Let's not kill the petition with kindness. I am seeking certain reliefs. Years after Sunil Batra handcuffing still exists, as does solitary confinement," he pleaded with the bench.
The ASG will now advance submissions tomorrow. In their reply, The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has opposed Navlakha's plea for house arrest on the grounds that there is no "substantive procedure of law in any statute" for such relief, and that it would set a bad precedent.
Navalakha, along with 15 other civil liberties activists and academics is incarcerated, facing charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) based on electronic evidence to claim a conspiracy to overthrow the government.