A government lawyer told the Bombay High Court on Friday that though prison inmates can talk to their relatives or lawyers on phone, she was not sure if the facility could be granted to activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case. Navlakha, 70, is accused of a serious offence, said lawyer Sangeeta Shinde, representing the Maharashtra government. A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and N R Borkar then granted her time till July 12 to make the government’s stand in the matter clear.
The HC was hearing a writ petition filed by Navlakha through his counsel Yug Mohit Chaudhary, seeking that he be allowed to make phone calls and video calls from the Taloja prison near Mumbai where he is lodged. Video call (VC) facility was offered to all inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with in-person meetings resuming in prisons, it has been withdrawn, the lawyer said.The bench said the state prison rules did not provide for VC facility, and a PIL demanding that video calls from prisons should be allowed was pending before a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta.
Advocate Chaudhary then said that in the meantime, Navlakha be permitted to make phone calls."They (prison authorities) insist that my (Navlakha’s) partner, who is 70 years old and lives in Delhi, make a physical trip to Mumbai every time she needs to speak with me," Chaudhary said. “All prisons in India except this jail in Maharashtra allow regular phone calls if not VC. Denying me such facility is just cruel," he said.
Government lawyer Shinde said the Taloja prison has a coin-box phone, and both convicts and undertrials are allowed to make calls twice a week.But when the bench began to pronounce an order directing that Navlakha be allowed to make phone calls, Shinde intervened to say that she was not sure if this would be possible.
“He (Navlakha) is accused of a serious offence under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act," she said. The court said the state will have to take a “clear stand" on whether prison rules were applicable to Navlakha or not.As Shinde said she would need to “take instructions" from the authorities, the court adjourned the hearing to July 12.
The case against Navlakha and others relates to a December 2017 conclave, `Elgar Parishad’, held in Pune. Maharashtra police, who initially probed the case before the National Investigation Agency took over, had alleged that the event was supported by the Maoists.