The Bombay High Court on Monday said it is “really comical” that Taloja prison authorities refused to hand over a book by PG Wodehouse to journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, citing security risk, Bar and Bench reported.
Navlakha, 70, is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, which pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. He was among 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.
A bench of Justices SB Shukre and GA Sanap were hearing a petition filed by Navlakha, seeking to be shifted to house arrest from Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai because of his age and deteriorating health, reported PTI.
At Monday’s hearing, Navlakha’s counsel Yug Chaudhry informed the court that Taloja prison officials refused to give the activist a chair to sit on despite him suffering from excruciating back pain. He added after his spectacle was stolen, the jail authorities even refused to accept the one sent by his family.
“Books are being refused,” the lawyer said. “A book by PG Wodehouse, that 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.”
The judges then sought to know if the order asking the book to be returned was available. Advocate Sandesh Patil, representing the National Investigation Agency, said the decision was taken by jail officials.
“This is really comical, it shows the attitude of the jail authorities,” the High Court observed. “PG Wodehouse was an inspiration for PL Deshpande, the famous humorist and writer of Maharashtra. How can that be a security threat?”
The bench asked the central agency why it not interfere in the matter and ensure basic needs were being met. “As the agency, it is your job to make the life of the prisoner comfortable in jail,” said the court, according to Bar and Bench.
Chaudhry told the court that the activist eventually received the book after a trial court order and spectacles were given to him after the matter reached the High Court, according to Live Law.
The advocate said the septuagenarian does not want to suffer the same fate as tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, a co-accused in the case who died in judicial custody on July 5 after his plea for bail was turned down several times, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and later Covid-19.
“I want to live so I can clear my name, stand trial and prove my innocence,” Chaudhry said.
Navlakha’s counsel also told the court that Taloja jail is overcrowded with 2,766 inmates, overshooting its capacity of 2,124 people.
“The barrack was not just unfit for medical quarantine but wholly unfit for human habitation,” Chaudhry submitted in an affidavit. “The ward was filthy and full of grime and cockroaches. The barrack had 4 bathrooms which were malfunctioning and extremely unhygienic, unsanitary and smelt foul. None of the bathrooms had any doors and were extremely dirty with feces and urine lying on the floor.”
At this juncture, the bench reprimanded the prison authorities for not filing any response to Navlakha’s affidavit about the poor conditions of the jail. The judges observed that they will, therefore, have to take the counsel’s submissions as true.
The bench was also aggravated that the counsel representing the Maharashtra government was not present in the court and asked the state to consider taking action against the erring law officer, Bar and Bench reported.
However, as the court started pronouncing its order, Additional Public Prosecutor Sangeeta Shinde appeared before the bench, informing them that the public prosecutor was tied up in another court.
“If you give a written apology, then we will not sign the order,” said the court and posted the matter for further hearing on April 5.
The judges directed the advocate general to investigate the matter and recommend corrective measures that have to be followed by prison officials.