Undue Emphasis Cannot Be Laid On Liberty, Accused Of Crime Against Society At Large- Bombay HC Dismisses Gautam Navlakha's Plea For House Arrest
The Bombay High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, that he be placed under house arrest instead of being lodged in prison.
A Division Bench of Justice S B Shukre and Justice G A Sanap held that his grievances and apprehensions about the lack of medical aid and basic facilities at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai, where he is currently lodged, are "ill-founded".
"Perusal of the record would show that the crime alleged to have been committed by the petitioner and others is not against a particular individual but it is against the society at large. In such cases, the liberty of the under trial prisoner and the interest of the society at large needs to be borne in mind and has to be balanced", the Court said.
The Supreme Court has laid down in past cases that undertrial prisoners can be placed under house arrest depending on the allegations against them, their age, health condition and several other factors, the Bench said. Navlakha's case did not meet any of the criteria, the Court added.
"The petitioner has stated that Taloja prison is overcrowded. The conditions and environment of Taloja Central prison is not compatible to the health of the petitioner....The case of the petitioner does not fit in any of the criteria (provided by SC). The apprehension of the petitioner that he will not be provided medical aid and his life will be miserable in unhygienic conditions and atmosphere of the prison, seems to be ill-founded," the Court held.
Navlakha had approached the High Court earlier this year through his lawyer Yug Mohit Chaudhry, complaining about poor facilities at the Taloja prison. He was denied a chair, pair of slippers, spectacles and a P G Wodehouse book by the prison superintendent, he said.
Prison toilets were dirty and his health deteriorated in jail, Navlakha claimed. His lawyer argued that Navlakha had no criminal antecedents, had cooperated with the police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and there was no risk that he would abscond, so his was a fit case for house custody. But Taloja prison authorities denied Navlakha's claims about lack of facilities.
The Maharashtra government told the High Court that Navlakha was lodged in a high-security cell where he was the only inmate. Inmates of high-security cells are responsible for cleaning the toilet themselves, it added. APP S. D. Shinde appeared for the state government.
The High Court in its order on Tuesday said the activist has the right to seek basic facilities in prison, but he should have raised his grievances before the special NIA court which is hearing the Elgar Parishad case.
Earlier this month, while denying co-accused Varavara Rao permanent bail on medical grounds, the HC had issued several directions to the Inspector General of Prisons, asking the authority to deal with grievances regarding medical aid and basic facilities. Implementation of the orders in Rao's case should take care of Navlakha's problems too, the judges said.
On Navlakha's argument that trial in the case was not likely to begin anytime soon, the High Court said, "It is not that the NIA is dragging its feet. It has come on record that the conspiracy is deep-rooted and, therefore, despite filing of the charge-sheet the investigation is being conducted." The NIA had also opposed Navlakha's plea, arguing that house custody would lead to difficulties such as the inability to prevent him from using social media.
It was common knowledge that India is a crowded nation and Mumbai is overcrowded, hence the Taloja jail being overcrowded was not an adequate reason to grant house arrest, the central probe agency had said.
With PTI inputs