The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Monday that prisons in the state are severely understaffed and the state lacks the infrastructure to provide telephone and video access to inmates.
In an affidavit filed at HC through Maharashtra (Prisons) Additional Chief Executive Sunil Ramanand, the state government said it will need to hire at least 400 additional staff to even start offering such facilities. to detainees. The government was responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the People’s Civil Liberties Union, requesting the immediate installation of telephones and other electronic means of communication for the resumption of video and voice call facilities in all state prisons, so inmates can speak with their attorneys and loved ones.
The PIL said that during the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, prison authorities across the state provided telephone and videoconferencing facilities to all prisoners, regardless of the offenses they were charged with. accused.
The state government, in its affidavit, said the above facility was introduced as an ‘exception’ between 2020 and 2021 ‘solely for compassionate and humanitarian reasons’ due to pandemic restrictions .
In its affidavit, the state government said it had provided “coin boxes” where inmates could make phone calls after depositing coins in the phone booth, and added that it had also purchased “smart phones, Wi-Fi (facilities), tablets etc” for phone and video calls.
However, now that the state has resumed “mulaqaat”, or physical meetings between detainees and their lawyers and other visitors, the above facilities have been removed, he said.
The state did not have the necessary “machinery or infrastructure” to continue to provide telephone and video conferencing facilities, the affidavit states.
Further, while the “Model Prison Manual, 2016″ prepared by the Union Home Ministry provides for video and telephone call facilities for inmates, the manual has yet to be adopted by Maharashtra , the state government told HC. ”The petitioner’s prayer therefore cannot be answered. The management of prisons in Maharashtra is governed by the “Maharashtra Prison Manual 1979”. This manual does not provide video call facilities for detainees to contact their attorneys or family members,’ the affidavit states.
The State has stated that in the absence of a legal provision to this effect, such facilities cannot be claimed as of right by the detainees.
During the day’s hearing, a bench consisting of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and SS Justice Shinde ordered the Maharashtra government lawyer, Attorney General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to visit some prisons in state to provide an update on the facilities provided there, including access to telephone calls. and videoconferencing.
The HC ordered the AG to submit an independent report within three weeks of its visit. During the hearing, Judge Shinde said, “Most prisons have a capacity of 600 inmates, and there are over 3,500 prisoners. Thus, all installations should be updated accordingly. Prisoners should know the status of their case and the number of sentences they have served. “After your visit, it will change your perspective,” the bench said.
Chief Justice Datta said the state cannot have reformatories operating beyond capacity.
The bench also said prisons need to have technical experts to address issues such as access to video conferencing facilities.
”We will keep this (case) after three weeks. In the meantime, at the request of Judge Shinde, you (AG) should visit the prison and give us your independent report,” the HC said.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)