Suspected IM terrorist Afzal Usmani’s escape from the sessions court in south Mumbai on Thursday has reignited the debate on whether undertrials in serious and sensitive cases should be brought to the court for hearings, or should the judicial system move on to the safer method of video-conferencing.
Senior police officials who favour video-conferencing say that apart from the security issues, ferrying undertrials to courts is also a waste of the state’s resources and puts additional strain on the police force.
Himanshu Roy, JCP (crime), said, “Video-conferencing is the need of the hour, and it is time that we adopt the technology, which will effectively address security concerns.”
“On an average, around 300 to 400 inmates are taken to courts every day in Mumbai. It requires more than 1,000 police personnel to ensure the process of transportation and other logistics is carried out without any lapse in security,” said a jail official.
Of the nine central jails, 28 district jails, five open jails, one open colony and 172 sub-jails in the state, only 35 are equipped with the video-conference facility. Besides, it is available only in 68 courts across the state.
While Maharashtra is still to chalk out a concrete measure, Gujarat has ensured it presents high-profile undertrials, like the 40 IM operatives at Sabarmati jail, before the courts only through video-conferencing. In fact, Gujarat has extended the facility to courts in four states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, said sources in the Gujarat police.
Sources in the state said the state is not too keen on implementing video-conferencing because of the costs involved in equipping all the courts. The government’s apathy came to the fore when it sought six months to file a reply to a bunch of public interest litigations seeking video conference facilities in jails.
The high court was critical and asked the government to file its reply within 6 weeks. An affidavit by the home department sought time as it had not taken budgetary provisions from the government for installation of such equipment. MN Singh, former Mumbai police commissioner, said: “Any undertrial who is seen as a threat to the society, state or the country, should be produced before the court only through video-conferencing, which is available in most central prisons across the state.”