The Bombay High Court today asked Maharashtra government to inform it by October 24 what security measures the state proposed to take in Mumbai Central jail and Taloja prison in Navi Mumhai. The Court also asked the Principal Secretaries of Home, Urban Development and Law and Judiciary departments to devise plans for allowing real estate development around the jails in such a manner that the safety of jail inmates was not compromised.
The court was hearing a petition filed by prison inmate Major Ramesh Upadhyay, an accused in the September 2008 Malegaon bomb blasts case. Upadhyay had written a letter to the court raising concerns about existing and under-construction high-rises that pose a security threat to jail inmates. The letter was converted into a writ petition and advocate Shubdha Khot was appointed amicus curaie (friend of the court) to assist in the matter.
During the course of hearing today, the court was told that the Secretary of Law and Judiciary had gone abroad, prompting the bench headed by Justice S C Dharmadhikari to remark that he (Secretary) should visit jails in foreign countries to find out what security measures were adopted for jail inmates. During the last hearing, the court had asked the Secretaries of the three departments to coordinate among themselves and work out modalities with regard to safety in prison in larger public interest. The court had also asked them to take the help of the Advocate General if required.
However, today, the bench said meetings with the Advocate General only would not help the government. There should be some kind of permanent advisory committee to guide the authorities in matters of prison security and development around prisons.
The court suggested some expert should be involved in the exercise to guide the executive in planning development around the jails. For instance, the Judges said, there should be buffer zones and not just a cluster of high-rise buildings all around. "Today, in the name of development there are no city boundaries or city limits. Some land should be left as buffer", the judges said.
The Judges further remarked that the executive had to do some ground-level work to assist political powers to take decisions when it comes to approving development schemes in senstive zones such as areas around prison. The Judges also said planning should be done in a way that it would not in any way risk the security of jails. The officers involved in this exercise should consider that the Arthur Road prison in South Mumbai would remain in its current place for some more years to come.
Government Pleader Purnima Kantharia said at least 13 buildings were coming up in redevelopment plans and Slum Rehabilitation Authority schemes around the Central prison at Arthur Road in South Mumbai. The government had earlier appointed a committee which recommended certain measures to ensure security in and around prisons in the wake of high-rises coming up in localities near jails. Observing that no concrete step had been taken till date on this issue, the bench directed the authorities concerned to seriously consider this issue. The matter has been adjourned to October 18.
Earlier, Principal Secretary, Medha Gadgil (Appeals and Security) had stated rules were in place under the development control regulations spelling out conditions for construction of high-rises around prisons in the state.