Elgaar Parishad case: Bombay High Court dismisses Gautam Navlakha’s plea seeking transfer from jail to house arrest

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The Bombay High Court Tuesday dismissed a plea by Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgaar Parishad case, seeking transfer from the Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai to judicial custody in the form of house arrest, alleging denial of basic medical care and other necessities.

The court said, “The petitioner would be at liberty to bring to the attention of the presiding officer of special NIA court the grievances in respect of difficulties faced by him and the said officer directed to ensure grievance redressed within parameters of law.”

A division bench of Justice Sunil B Shukre and Justice Govinda A Sanap also directed the Superintendent of Taloja central prison to ensure medical facilities are provided to the petitioner. The detailed judgment will be made available in due course.

The bench on April 5 had concluded the hearing and reserved its verdict in Navlakha’s plea. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and state prison authority, while opposing the plea, had stated that sufficient facilities were provided to the accused. It said there were many prisoners who were 70 or above and had comorbidities and if Navlakha’s plea was allowed, there would be a flood of such applications in the courts.

The bench was also informed that the quarantine barrack, in which septuagenarian Navalakha has been lodged, was “unfit for human habitation”. “…the ward was filthy and full of grime and cockroaches and bathrooms were extremely unhygienic and extremely dirty with faeces and urine lying on the floor…,” Navlakha’s affidavit read.

Advocates Yug Mohit Chaudhry and Payoshi Roy, appearing for Navlakha, said, “He (Navlakha) was refused a chair to sit on despite suffering from excruciating back pain. In the past, his spectacles were stolen and the jail refused to accept the fresh pair of spectacles sent to him by his family. Books are being refused. A book by P G Wodehouse, which is considered a humour book, was sent by his family and the jail authorities refused to hand it to him saying it was a ‘security risk’ twice.”

Chaudhry added the book was later personally handed over to Navlakha. After the High Court sought to know if there was any order that the book be returned as a “security risk”, Chaudhry answered in the affirmative. When the court inquired whether it was true, advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for NIA, said that it was the jail authority’s prerogative to take such a decision.

Calling it a “security risk”, the Taloja Jail authorities twice refused to hand over a P G Wodehouse novel to Navlakha, his lawyer had told the High Court. Navlakha only got the book after the trial court’s order, the lawyer added. The High Court had said this was “really comical” and showed “the attitude of the jail authorities”.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, representing the NIA, had told the court that Navlakha’s plea was not before the appropriate forum and was premature as he ought to have approached the special NIA court, which is seized of or has decided his other bail pleas.

Additional Public Prosecutor Sangeeta D Shinde, representing the state prison authorities, refuted allegations made by Navlakha about denial of facilities in the prison. She added that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the prison authorities had decided not to accept any parcel to control the spread of Coronavirus in prisons. However, the bench referred to the prison authority’s order denying the book to Navlakha and said the cited “security reason” and “Covid-19” restrictions were not specifically mentioned.

The bench questioned the prison authority, “Why wasn’t he given the book (written by P G Wodehouse)? Is humour banished from jail?” The bench added “access to books” is “very important towards reformation of inmates” during incarceration.

The state counsel submitted that the jail library had around 2,800 books. Justice Shukre remarked that even a secondary school would have more books in its library. The bench suggested that the bar associations or the court could do something to address the issue of shortage of books in the prison.



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