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Mumbai: In the latest instance of inhumane treatment meted out to the accused in the Elgar-Parishad case, lawyer Surendra Gadling has accused the Taloja central jail superintendent of blocking his supply of ayurvedic medicines, which he had been permitted to access by the trial court.
Gadling, who suffers from hypertension, diabetes, cardiac disorder, syncope [fainting or passing out caused by a temporary drop in the amount of blood that flows to the brain], lumbar and cervical spondylitis, has written to the additional director general of prisons (ADGP), Atulchandra Kulkarni, complaining against Taloja jail superintendent U.T. Pawar for denying him medicines.
Even as the accused – all of whom are rights activists, academics and lawyers – have claimed that they have been falsely implicated in the case, they have also had to repeatedly convince the Maharashtra prison authorities to treat them humanely in jail – something they are entitled to. Prison authorities have denied them basic rights in prison—from adequate medical care to a sipper to drink water, forcing the activists to move the court. In some instances, court orders too were dishonoured by the prison department.
In the letter, narrating the recent incidents, Gadling writes that on November 23, his son had travelled from Nagpur to the Mumbai trial court to hand him his monthly quota of medicines. But on returning to Taloja jail, Gadling says he was stopped at the entrance and the medicines were not allowed in.
“During the (jail) search, Baba (prison staff) and jailor objected for ayurvedic medicines. I apprised them of the chief medical officer’s (CMO) permission letter and court order… but they said we don’t acknowledge court orders or CMO’s permission, we only follow the superintendent’s orders,” Gadling writes in his complaint letter. At the jail entrance, Gadling says, he was told that Pawar had asked them not to allow ayurvedic medicines inside the jail premises.
The medicines, Gadling says, were deposited at the gate and have not been given to him to date. The Elgar Parishad accused, before being shifted to Mumbai, were in Pune’s Yerwada central prison for several months. Pawar was a superintendent of the Yerwada prisons then. There too, the activists had accused him of highhandedness.
“The present superintendent has no regard for law and court orders and has a habit of defying court orders,” Gadling claims in his complaint letter. Pawar, because of similar complaints in the past, was served with a show-cause notice by the special UAPA court in Pune in 2018.
Gadling, in his letter, describes his plight and the need for constant negotiation to get a single bucket of warm water to bathe in winter. His medical condition makes it difficult for him to bathe with cold water. He writes that he has been constantly asking the jail staff to make his medicines available to him and has been citing the court’s order as a last resort. “We only follow Pawar’s orders in jail,” he is told each time, the lawyer said.
Consequently, his health condition has deteriorated. Gadling writes in the complaint letter that the syncope condition has worsened. On November 24, he says he passed out in the toilet and injured his head. “The non-availability of medicines and hot water is posing a danger to my life,” he writes.
The Wire tried contacting Pawar but the superintendent could not be reached. ADGP Kulkarni told The Wire that he is travelling at the moment and has not seen the complaint letter. “I will take 3-4 days to get back to work. I will be able to look at the complaint letter only then,” he said.
The jail department, most specifically the Taloja jail staff, have shown complete disregard for prisoners’ rights in recent years. Father Stan Swamy, one of the oldest persons arrested in the case, was denied access to a sipper and had to move the court to access it. He was suffering from Parkinson’s and could not drink water from a normal cup. Later, when his health deteriorated and he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the prison authorities did not provide him adequate medical care. Eventually, he passed away at a private hospital.
Another accused, Gautam Navalakha, a senior journalist and civil liberties activist, was denied access to a proper pair of spectacles in jail – without which is almost blind. These are basic amenities and should be available without any hassles. But the prisons authorities have made it difficult for them each time.
When the matter came to the attention of the Bombay high court, the judges observed, “Humanity is most important. Everything else will follow… This is the high time to conduct a workshop for even jail authorities.” The court ordered an inquiry into the matter.