The Bombay High Court today directed the state's Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to visit one or more prisons in the state and take stock of facilities for inmates, including access to phone calls and video-conferencing.

A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S S Shinde directed Kumbhakoni to submit an "independent report" within three weeks on the status of such facilities in the prisons.

The Bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), seeking that telephone calls and video-conferencing facilities be re-started in prisons across the state to enable inmates to get in touch with their lawyers and family members.

As per the PIL, while such facilities were made available during the first and second waves of COVID-19, they were stopped after most coronavirus-related restrictions were relaxed by the state government.

Today, Kumbhakoni told the Court that while some prisons had video-conferencing facilities, there were "practical difficulties" in granting access to inmates to such facilities. To this, the Bench said the AG must visit the prisons to get a clear idea of the several problems faced by inmates.

"I will suggest, Mr AG, that you please visit jails. Then you will understand. I myself have visited two jails with SC judge Justice U U Lalit," Justice Shinde said.

"Most prisons have a capacity of 600 inmates, and there are over 3,500 prisoners. So, all facilities have to be updated accordingly. The prisoners should know about the status of their matter and how much sentence have they served," he said.

"After your visit, it will change your perspective," the Bench said. Chief Justice Datta said the state could not have correctional homes operating beyond their capacities.

The Bench also said that prisons must have technical experts to address issues such as access to video-conferencing facilities.

"We will keep this (matter) after three weeks. In the meantime, on Justice Shinde's request, you (AG) should visit prison and give us your independent report," the High Court said.

With PTI inputs