Can number of prisoners meetings with families be increased: HC asks jail authority

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New Delhi, Apr 13 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the prison authority whether the number of 'mulaqats' of prisoners with their family and lawyers can be increased to four per month instead of the current number of three and to explore feasibility of holding physical meetings instead of only virtual.

Justice Prathiba M Singh also asked the Director General (DG) of Prisons whether physical mulaqats (visits/meetings) can be held inside the jail premises by following social distancing measures and use of protective gear as the prevalent practice of virtual meetings was not feasible for everyone.

The court said that family members of each and every prisoner may not have access to the kind of gadgets and internet connection required for virtual meetings and therefore, the feasibility of conducting physical mulaqats be explored.

Delhi government additional standing counsel Gautam Narayan, appearing for DG Prisons, told the court that earlier eight meetings per month were held and the number was reduced to three, that also virtually, after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Subsequently, when the situation improved, physical meetings were commenced, but they were again stopped in April after the surge in COVID cases, he said and added that he will seek instructions on the queries posed by the court.

Another query posed by the court was whether the computers in the computer centre in Tihar Jail can be made operational for prisoners to access the websites of the police, trial courts, Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court so that they can keep track of their cases and FIRs against them.

It also asked the DG Prisons to consider providing more computers with internet connection in the legal aid room of the jail, so that legal aid lawyers can help prisoners to find out their case status and also draft pleas.

The queries were posed to the DG Prisons as these issues were raised before the court by two JNU students -- Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita -- who are also Pinjra Tod activists and presently in jail in connection with the communal riots in north east Delhi.

Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) was founded in 2015 to make hostels and paying guest accommodations less restrictive for women students Narwal and Kalita, arrested last year in May in connection with the communal riots in north east Delhi and in judicial custody presently, have sought a direction to the DG Prisons to allow them and other inmates to have a choice of physical or virtual 'mulaqaats' or meetings to communicate with family and friends as is provided under the Prison Rules of 2018.

The two students were arrested by the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police and booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code including rioting, unlawful assembly and attempt to murder.

They have also been booked under the stringent anti-terror law - Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in a separate case related to the communal violence in north east Delhi in February last year, for allegedly being part of a 'premeditated conspiracy' in the riots.

Communal clashes had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24, 2020 after violence between citizenship law supporters and protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.

In all, four cases have been registered against Kalita, including in relation to the northeast Delhi riots earlier this year and violence in old Delhi's Daryaganj area during protests against the CAA in December 2019. Narwal is accused in three cases. PTI HMP RKS RKS