The Bombay High Court, while hearing a plea filed by Elgaar Parishad case accused Gautam Navlakha, seeking his transfer from Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai alleging denial of basic medical care and other necessities, pulled up the state government on Monday stating that it will pass strictures if prison authorities “are not bothered to take care” of poor jail conditions.
This came after the HC was informed by Navlakha’s lawyer that the Taloja jail refused his client several facilities, including a book by P G Wodehouse, calling it a “security risk”.
The bench was also informed that the quarantine barrack, in which septuagenarian Navalakha is 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.
Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry, 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 HC 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.
“But Wodehouse was an inspiration for P L Deshpande, the famous humorist and writer from Maharashtra. Wodehouse is considered to be a security threat… this is really comical, it shows the attitude of the jail authorities. As the investigating agency, it is your job to make the life of the prisoner comfortable. At least basic human requirements must be ensured,” a division bench of Justice Sunil B Shukre and Justice Govinda A Sanap said.
The court observed that “prima facie,” an earlier affidavit filed by the state did not deal with Navlakha’s specific allegations against Taloja jail. “Surprisingly, such a reply gives the impression that whatever is stated by the petitioner is true. And whatever conditions are mentioned in the prison are considered to be true. This is further bolstered by the absence of a government lawyer in court when the petitioner’s advocate is arguing,” it said while asking Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to suggest “corrective measures forthwith”.
After the state lawyer apologised for not remaining present before it since the beginning of the hearing, the bench said that if she gives a written apology, it will not pass an order against her.
The HC will hear the case next on April 5.