by Elton Gomes
After fugitive Vijay Mallya alleged that prison conditions in India were “pathetic” and refused to return to the country, prison authorities in Mumbai have sprung up in action to set up a new block of cells at Arthur Road jail.
A ground-plus-one structure will be demolished to make way for the block that will house at least a dozen cells. An official said that they expect the building to come up within the next six months, thus not allowing any fugitive offenders to cite prison conditions in future.
“The cells will meet European and UK prison standards and all human rights criteria. The public works department has started work and received quotations for demolition of the building,” an official said, the Times of India reported.
What facilities will the cells have?
A television set, personal toilet and bedding, a washing area, and a courtyard to take a stroll in are only a few highlight of the new cells. “The cell has cross ventilation with a window and bars on opposite sides. The cell also opens to a courtyard,” a senior official said, NDTV reported.
“As far is security is concerned, the jail security matches international standards – we already informed court in last few hearings,” the source said. He also claimed that Mallya would be given access to a library in order to keep himself occupied.
In addition, the cells will be constantly watched through CCTV cameras and will have additional guards posted inside and outside the barrack to keep a constant vigil on the inmates. “Food is served four times during the day inside an earmarked area of the barrack, where the inmates are told to gather,” the official added, as per the NDTV report.
The cell is reportedly spacious, has well-ventilated and well-lit rooms, and will come equipped with a western style toilet, a separate washbasin, and shower in the bathroom.
Mallya’s allegations; Choksi cites poor conditions
Poor jail conditions and the alleged threat to human rights were claimed to be the main reasons why Mallya said he would not wish to return to India. Mallya also complained about “no natural light” or fresh air in Indian jails. After Mallya, fugitive jeweller Mehul Choksi also cited similar reasons and opposed the CBI’s plea to the Interpol seeking a red corner notice against him.
In his plea before the Interpol, Choksi claimed that jails in India “violate human rights conditions”, and he has alleged that a media trail was in progress against him, which could influence the judicial system.
UK court asks for video of jail cell
In July, media reports said that India has three weeks to submit a video showing the amount of natural light available to inmates of Barrack 12 of the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. The move came after Mallya’s defence claimed that the Indian government’s assurances “cannot be relied upon.”
During the briefing, the most contentious point was the assurance on natural light available to prisoners at Barrack 12. Defence Barrister Clare Montgomery insisted that as the barrack was encased in a steel shell, the light shown in the pictures sent by the government could be the result of “manipulation” of doors and lighting, and they couldn’t be the natural light they contended it was.
Montgomery asked the judge, “What harm is there in having an inspection.” The judge then asked the prosecution to provide a video that is taken at midday to eliminate any such concerns.
CBI submits video
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitted a video showing proper natural light in the Cell Number 12, where Mallya will be lodged after extradition. The CBI submitted a 10-minute long video footage before the UK court earlier this week.
In submissions to the UK court, the Indian authorities emphasized that there would be sufficient toilet and washing facilities, including a private separate toilet and washing facilities that would be regularly cleaned. The government further assured that Mallya would be provided with adequate bedding, including bed linen and pillows that would be cleaned daily.
Where does Mallya’s case currently stand
A special court in Mumbai fixed September 3 as the next date of hearing for Mallya. The move came after some other parties sought to implead themselves in the matter relating to the alleged default of bank loans over Rs 9,000 crore.
Officials said that at least five parties, including a family member of Mallya, wishes to see court documents with regard to the Enforcement Directorate seeking to get declared the businessman a fugitive economic offender under the new law . Which is why the court posted the matter for September.
Bowing down before affluent offenders
Although Mallya’s claims about Indian jails might have some amount of truth, it exposes a flaw within the Maharashtra prison authorities – that they are taking measures when an affluent offender raises objections. Does that mean that other prisoners do not require sunlight? Shouldn’t their toilets be cleaned regularly as well?
An opinion piece in the Telegraph also talks about funds to construct special facilities for Mallya – where will the funds come from? The article states that the move to upgrade Arthur Road jail serves as testament that India’s jails are in need of reform.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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