A day after additional court to handle MCOCA cases was announced, the 109 undertrials called off their hunger strike on its sixth day on Saturday. However, six days of strike resulted with six of the undertrials being admitted to JJ Hospital due to weakness.
The 109 undertrials called off their strike after their leader Pradeep Bhalekar, who was one of the persons shifted to JJ Hospital, appealed to them to call off the strike as one part of their demands was met. Six of them were admitted to the hospital on late Friday evening after they showed sign of severe weakness.
One hundred and nine undertrials booked under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) had gone on hunger strike on January 1 demanding speedier disposal of their cases as several of them have been behind bars since 2001. Of these, 21 had intensified their protest by refusing water from Friday evening.
The atmosphere at around 7 pm in ward number 8 in JJ Hospital was jubilant as the protestors broke their fast with tea and biscuits. Advocate Sushan Kunjuraman told Hindustan Times that Bhaleklar’s message was immediately conveyed to the Arthur Road Jail where other undertrials were yet to break their protest fast.
After it was announced on Friday that Judge Mohan Ramrao Puranik was appointed as the third MCOCA judge for the city and would take charge from Monday, Kunjuraman had sent a letter to the jail late on Friday night.
"Around mid-night I gave a letter to the jail superintendent Swati Sathe to be conveyed to the striking undertrials about the development. The message was immediately conveyed by the superintendent to the prisoners, however, even then they had refused to call off the strike," added Kunjuraman.
Although one additional MCOCA court would not suffice to dispose the cases speedily, it is a beginning, said Kunjuraman.
Their other demands like the constitution of MCOCA review committee and simpler bail conditions would be pressed through other legal means. "Constituting a committee to review the cases would take some time as it is a lengthy procedure," said Kunjuraman.
Besides, they are also asking for decent living conditions inside the jail. Over 200 undertrials are squeezed in a barrack which has a capacity of accommodating around 70 undertrials, said their advocate Santosh Deshpande adding that, "As against this the bomb blast accused are provided with better facilities. Only 40 accused are kept in a barrack where the bomb blast accused are lodged."
Despite the announcement of additional MCOCA court, the undertrials were not willing to call off their protest till Saturday morning. Deshpande who had visited them in the morning said that plan to continue with their strike until their other demands too were met. However, they changed their mind after their leader Bhalekar appealed to them on Saturday evening.