Prisoners appear for an exam in a jail in Mumbai
Inmates serving time in Taloja Central Prison have access to the prison library, but an Indian Mujahideen undertrial shot off a letter to the Chief Justice complaining that not a single book on criminal law is to be found on the shelves.
Mohammed Atik Iqbal, who was nabbed from Pune after the German Bakery blasts, is a Computer Science graduate and worked with a major international software firm as a tech analyst prior to his arrest. His letter dated February 14, 2012 was treated as a writ petition and heard by the division bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and A R Joshi on Tuesday. Further hearing is scheduled for July 23.
Besides a plea for law books to be included in the prison library, Iqbal requested that the jail authorities implement Internet facilities so that inmates can track the developments in their respective cases.
His letter also asks for the state government to appoint a special official to provide prisoners with copies of latest judgements. Iqbal said in his letter, "If lawyers can be helped by their clients then it eases their work and they become attentive and spontaneous... The prison library has no law books on CrPC, IPC or the Indian Constitution. We feel great joy when we read about judgements in our favour in the newspapers, but we have no way of accessing the court orders themselves or their copies."
Most Indian courts upload their latest judgements on their official websites. "How nice would it be if accused/convicts could have access to judgements... the costs for accessing the Internet can be recovered from the prisoner's prison account. We have no other way of availing of the judgements we need," his letter stated.
The letter further says, "The present generation is more inclined to defending themselves on their own if they have the capabilities and resources to do the same. This is because the present generation is better educated than the previous one."
This is not the first time Iqbal has made complaints about his treatment in jail. Since his arrest in October 2008, he has approached the High Court several times and in October 2011, he petitioned the government seeking information regarding his own arrest under the RTI Act.
He alleged that he had been illegally detained for five days before being shown as arrested. That same month, he was allegedly locked up and tortured by prison officials, deprived of food and water for three days. In July that same year, he and three other IM members complained to the court that they were not produced before the judge as scheduled, because the officers who were to escort them were too busy watching an IPL match.
Cause for concern
Public Prosecutor U Kejariwal raised apprehensions over security in connection with allowing prisoners to access the Internet. A letter from prison authorities states that some law books are available on special request. The court pointed out that the demands in the letter could be feasibly entertained. It added that programmes exist which could be used to block out any undesirable websites.