Bombay HC Slams Jail Officials For Not Accepting New Spectacles for Gautam Navlakha

"Humanity is most important. Everything else will follow," a high court bench observed, adding that there is a need to sensitise the prison staff to the needs of inmates.

New Delhi: Days after Gautam Navlakha’s spectacles were allegedly stolen inside the Taloja prison, the Bombay high court said on Tuesday there’s a need to conduct a workshop for jail officials to sensitise them on the needs of prisoners.

A division bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and M.S. Karnik said it has learnt about how spectacles of Navlakha were stolen inside jail and the prison authorities refused to accept the new spectacles sent by his family through courier.

“Humanity is most important. Everything else will follow. Today, we learnt about Navlakha’s spectacles. This is the high time to conduct a workshop for even jail authorities,” Justice Shinde said.

“Can all these small items be denied? These are all humane considerations,” he added.

Navlakha is an accused in the Elgar Parishad case.

Navlakha’s partner Sahba Husain on Monday said in a statement that his spectacles were stolen on November 27 inside the Taloja prison, where he is lodged.

Close to blind without his glasses, Navlakha was not even allowed to make an emergency call to his family until three days later. However, that call also proved futile as the jail authorities refused to accept the parcel containing his new pair of spectacles.

“The jail authorities were informed that Gautam was almost blind without the spectacles and that they would be arriving any day to ensure that the parcel is accepted and not returned. In spite of this the jail authorities refused to accept the parcel when it arrived by post,” Husain said in a statement.

Navlakha is among other activists including Stan Swamy, Anand Teltumbde, Hany Babu, Sagar Gorkhe, who were charged by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under sections of criminal conspiracy, sedition and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

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Navlakha and Teltumbde had surrendered before the NIA, which is probing the nearly three-year-old case, on April 14, 2020. The case pertains to the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Maharashtra’s Pune district on December 31, 2017, which, the police alleged, was funded by Maoists. The speeches made by some activists at the conclave triggered violence near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on outskirts of Pune city the next day, according to the police charge sheet.

The high court made the observation about the jail authorities’ conduct while hearing two petitions filed by activists, Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe, challenging their arrest by the NIA in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case.

Senior counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for Gaichor and Gorkhe, told the HC on Tuesday that the duo were arrested by the NIA only because they refused to make statements before a magistrate against the other accused in the case.

The petitions also said the case should be held before the special NIA court in Pune, and not in Mumbai.

“The offence is alleged to have occurred in Pune. The case was initially held before a court in Pune. However, after the NIA took over the probe, it was transferred to the special NIA court in Mumbai even when there is a special NIA court in Pune,” Desai said.

NIA’s advocate Sandesh Patil sought time, following which the HC posted the matter for hearing on December 21.

The act of refusing a new pair of spectacles to Navlakha by jail authorities comes days after Father Stan Swamy who has Parkinson’s disease struggled to get a straw and sipper inside the prison. He was later provided with a straw, sipper and winter clothes after several protests.

Seventy-year-old Navlakha is also a patient of several ailments. According to Husain, he is in acute distress and is unable to see things around him, and as a result, his blood pressure has shot up.

In case of activist Varavara Rao (80), the Bombay high court had to intervene to send him to Nanavati hospital from Taloja jail as his condition deteriorated. The court noted that Rao was almost on his deathbed. Rao was arrested in 2018 in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.

(With inputs from PTI)