A court in New Delhi on Monday has directed Tihar prison authorities to provide inmate telephone call facility for five minutes, thrice a week, to seven accused, including Sharjeel Imam and Umar Khalid, in a case linked to the 2020 Northeast Delhi riots.
The court, however, pulled up the jail administration for "wrongly" granting the accused who were facing charges under UAPA the call facility on a daily basis for five minutes from the beginning of judicial custody, saying it must set its house in order, follow the rules and maintain consistency without any discrimination.
Khalid, Imam, Gulfisha Fatima, Shifa-ur-Rehman, Sharjeel Imam, Tasleem Ahmad and Athar Khan had filed applications for the continuation of the daily five minutes phone call facility for conversing with their families that had been revoked in September 2022.
On Monday, another accused Meeran Haider also applied to the restoration of inmate daily phone call facilities.
All accused are incarcerated in the case regarding the larger conspiracy behind the 2020 northeast Delhi riots that is being probed by the special cell of the Delhi police.
“... Considering the overall situation and the conduct report, the present applications are disposed of with the directions to the jail superintendents concerned to provide the accused or applicants with the said inmate telephone call facility for five minutes for conversing with their family members thrice a week,” additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat said.
Other conditions of the facility, according to the prison rule and a circular, had to be followed by the jail superintendents, the judge added.
The court, which had earlier sought the conduct report of the six applicants, noted that the conduct of five applicants was satisfactory, while Fatima had been issued a warning.
The court noted the arguments of the applicants that since the beginning of their judicial custody, they were provided a five-minute phone call facility to converse with their family members on a daily basis which was then stopped.
It said that according to Rule 631 of Delhi Prison Rules, prisoners or under-trial prisoners involved in offences against the state, terrorist activities, etc., were not eligible for inmate telephone call facility in the interest of public safety and order.
“From the reading of the said rule, it appears that the applicants who are at present involved in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are not eligible for this facility in terms of the said existing ruler... However, it remains a fact that all the accused persons have been granted this facility on a daily basis for five minutes from the beginning of judicial custody,” the court said.
But there were some instances of different approaches by different jail superintendents and the Law Officer, Prison (HQ) conceded that the approach of the jail authority was “not fair and correct” and was “in disregard of the prison rules.”
“The Tihar jail administration concerned must set its house in order and follow the rules and, at the same time, maintain consistency without any discrimination against any individual accused,” the court said.
It said the relaxation to Rule 631 could be provided by the Jail Superintendent, who could take proper decisions on a case-to-case basis on prior approval of the deputy inspector general (Range) and also by a competent court.
“The court is conscious of the fact that if such facility… is provided on a daily basis to the accused persons and while also considering the fact that considering the said rule, this should apply not only for accused in this case but for all the accused persons in similar offences, the rule itself will get defeated,” the court said.
The court, however, was conscious of the fact this facility was being provided continuously to the accused persons from the beginning, even if “wrongly provided by the Tihar Jail administration,” the court said.
It directed a copy of the order be sent to the director general (prison) for “onward transmission to the Jail Superintendents concerned for information and compliance.”