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'Victimized For Demanding Their Rights as Prisoners': Kin of Bhima Koregaon Move Bombay High Court Against Prison Transfer Orders

Sharmeen Hakim
3 Aug 2021 11:26 AM GMT
Victimized For Demanding Their Rights as Prisoners:  Kin of Bhima Koregaon Move Bombay High Court Against Prison Transfer Orders
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The petition accuses Taloja's previous Superintendent of initiating the transfers to cover up violations of the rights guaranteed under The Prisons Act, 1894

Kin of three accused in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad Case have approached the Bombay High Court challenging three orders to transfer ten accused out of Taloja Central Prison to any other prison in Maharashtra. The petition states that Special NIA Judge DE Kothalikar's orders, repeatedly permitting their transfers without issuing a notice, giving a hearing to them or...

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Kin of three accused in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad Case have approached the Bombay High Court challenging three orders to transfer ten accused out of Taloja Central Prison to any other prison in Maharashtra.

The petition states that Special NIA Judge DE Kothalikar's orders, repeatedly permitting their transfers without issuing a notice, giving a hearing to them or recording reasons, violates principles of natural justice.

Moreover, the petition accuses Taloja's previous Superintendent - Kaustubh Kurlekar - of initiating the transfers as an act of 'victimisation' for demanding their 'rights' prescribed under The Prisons Act, 1894.

"He has deprived them of basic requirements (communication with families), created impediments in the supply of medicine and has acted prejudicially to their detriment and suffering," the plea adds accusing him of cruel and inhuman treatment.

The petition adds that the transfers to different prisons could have severe repercussions on the accused in preparing their defence against a charge sheet that runs into over twenty thousand pages.

Of the 16 academics, lawyers and activists arrested in the case, 10 are lodged in Taloja Prison, three are in Byculla Women's Prison. Dr Varavara Rao, who is out on interim bail, DU Associate Professor Hanny Babu who is in the Breach Candy Hospital and Father Stan Swamy, who passed away on July 5, were all lodged in Taloja.

Professor Anand Teltumbde and Advocate Surendra Gadling's spouses – Rama and Minal – and activist Sudhir Dhawale's friend Sharad Gaikwad have filed the plea under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India and Section 21 of the NIA Act.

It assails three orders passed by the Special Judge on April 1, 2021; June 17, 2021 and June 27, 2021. The then Superintendent Kurlekar filed the first application in April to transfer six of them to Mumbai Central Prison (Arthur Road), citing decongestion for Taloja while Arthur Road housed inmates over three times its capacity.

The second and the third applications accuse the families and lawyers of taking 'advantage' of Covid-19 pandemic and making 'false complaints' through media and bringing pressure on Taloja jail authority to achieve their intention, as per the plea.

Taloja's new Superintendent called the accused twice, asking them if they wished to be transferred.

"The Respondents appear to have been disturbed by the genuine complaints lodged by the inmates and on their own showing have treated such complaints as false, for building pressure on prison administration, and to gain personal benefit," it adds.

Prison Conditions

The petitioners have alleged that it is a matter of record that Dr Varavara Rao and Father Swamy got proper medical treatment only after the High Court's intervention.

Additionally, spouses of Teltumbde and accused Vernon Gonsalves were forced to approach the court after the prison authorities arbitrarily disallowed them from sending or receiving letters, the plea adds.

The petition further mentions that a couple of months ago, Gadling was squeezed into the quarantine ward with 40 other prisoners and it was only after the issue became public that he was removed and leakages fixed.

"The situation was such that the water used to drip through the ceiling, wetting the floor. Additionally, the toilet and washrooms therein were extremely dirty, using which created extremely unhygienic situation added with strong nauseating odor spread in the complete ward. Mr Surendra and many other similarly placed people could not even sleep properly for days together and had to spend nights in standing position."

As for three other accused Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Mahesh Raut, the plea states that after testing positive for Covid, they were kept in a 15 X 8 feet isolation ward without nutritious food or vitamin tablets. It was only after they complained to their lawyers that action was taken.

Upset that the inmates were complaining to their family members and lawyers, Kurlekar allegedly stopped posting their grievances and started a new norm to allow only two letters a month. Moreover, the letters were placed under strict censorship, asking the accused to score off allegations against prison officials.

Citing paucity of staff who could read English, the letters remained unposted for days, the plea alleged. It further cites a lawyer's official complaint after being humiliated at the prison gates when he tried delivering essentials.

"That it is the case of the Petitioners that conduct of the Respondent No.2 has not been humane, compassionate and rather has been cruel, and inhuman. It is submitted that the Respondents are bound in law to treat prisoners with dignity and ensure that Prison rules and regulations are complied with, which they have failed and neglected to do."

Case

The National Investigation Agency has accused the civil liberties activists as responsible for the Bhima Koregaon violence and furthering the banned CPI (Maoist) agenda with a plot to overthrow the government.

They are booked under sections 121, 121A, 124A, 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120B r/w 34 of the IPC and sections 13,16,17,18,18-B,20,38,39 and 40 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

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