Delhi Court Raps Jails Over Treatment of Riots Accused, 'Physical Inspection if No Improvement'

During the hearing held through video conferencing, seven of the 15 accused said they have not been given warm clothes.

New Delhi:  Several accused in the February riots in north-east Delhi lodged in jails here have complained they were not being given basic things like warm clothes for the winter prompting a city judge on Tuesday to warn prison authorities he would go and inspect the situation physically if things do not improve.

Expressing his displeasure over the response by jail authorities to address “basic and important” issues, the judge directed Director General (DG) of Delhi Prisons to look into the grievances of all the 15 accused, booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the case, and order that somebody who can take a call inspect the situation at Mandoli and Tihar prisons.

“This has to end. DG (Prisons) is directed to take stock of the situation; to order someone, who can take a call, to look into the grievances. If things do not improve, I would go for a physical inspection myself. And the lawyers may accompany me too,” Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat said in his order.

The court also asked the authorities to apprise the court of the status on November 23.

Since the court is constantly receiving complaints from accused persons in judicial custody and also their counsels, who have been moving successive applications to the court for directions to the Jail Superintendent, it appears that there are some issues regarding the administration of Jail complex as the applications for these accused persons have been made for basic, important but avoidable issues/grievances, it said.

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The court further said that the presence of the concerned Jail Superintendent might not be helpful as he was responsible for only one jail whereas the grievances seemed to be running through all the jails.

It noted that various orders have been passed in the past for the Jail Superintendent to consider the grievances of the accused persons lodged in their jail.

“The court is fully aware that the entitlement of the accused persons can only be in terms of jail rules, however, again in view of the constant grievances as raised by the counsels and accused persons from time to time, this court is inclined to pass directions to the Director General (Prison) to take stock of the situation and ensure that all the issues/problems flagged by the counsel or the accused persons are heard, apprised and disposed of.

“In these circumstances, the court directs that the officer not below the rank of Additional Director General (Prisons) shall appear on the next date of hearing. In case, the grievances or the issues are still not resolved by next date, the court will be compelled to take stock of the situation by the undersigned (judge) visiting the jail complex himself along with the Prosecutor and defence counsel,” the court said.

During the hearing held through video conferencing, seven of the 15 accused said they have not been given warm clothes, though it is permitted under the prison rules, and the prison authorities said they needed court order for this.

Advocate Mehmood Pracha, appearing for Gulfisha Khatoon, said an application for supply of winter clothes had to be filed since the jail authorities said they won’t permit it unless there was a court direction.

When the court allowed the application, advocate Adit Pujari, appearing for JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, requested that the order be extended for all the accused as everyone was facing the same problem.

The counsel for former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, one of the accused, said she had asked to be allowed a pair of slippers from her home as those supplied by the jail authorities were slippery and she was severely injured due to it, but they denied her that too.

When her parents went to jail yesterday with warm clothes for her the jail authorities did not permit it, Jahan’s lawyer said.

While addressing the court directly, Jahan sought interim bail for two months, saying she was concerned as several inmates at Mandoli jail have developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Another accused Athar Khan claimed that while two of the inmates have been hospitalised, few have also been isolated after they showed symptoms of COVID-19 and there were no health facilities.

Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha alleged he was facing discrimination from the jail authorities and was not allowed to meet his family members for the past few months.

I have not been allowed to meet my family from the last two and half months even though others are being allowed. The jail authorities are not approving their application for a meeting. When I complain, the jail authorities say that this is not a place for activism,” Tanha alleged.

Advocate Sowjhanya Shankaran, appearing for Tanha, said the jail officials even denied giving him a copy of the order by which his bail was rejected.

Another accused Meeran Haider said he was down with fever due to the cold without winter clothes, but he has been unable to put forward his grievances to the prison authorities.

Khatoon claimed that she had written letters addressed to the higher authorities two months back, regarding her alleged harassment by jail staff, but they have not been forwarded to the concerned persons.

Advocate Rizwan, appearing for former AAP Councillor Tahir Hussain, too said the accused were asking for basic things as per the jail rules.

Communal clashes had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24 after violence between citizenship law supporters and protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.