Former Supreme Court judge Madan B. Lokur has called out the judiciary for allowing 20 days to an investigative agency to respond to an 83-year-old ailing inmate’s plea for a straw and a sipper to drink water in jail.
“You will recall very recently the case of one super senior citizen, an 83-year-old person who has been arrested. All that he wanted was — he suffers from Parkinson’s disease — a straw and a sipper because his hand movement is such that he is unable to hold a glass of water. All that he wanted was a straw and a sipper so that he could drink water,” Justice Madan B. Lokur said at a virtual programme on Friday.
“And what does the investigating agency say? They say that ‘we need 20 days’ time to file a reply to this request’. What does the judiciary do? The judiciary says ‘all right, we will give you 20 days’ time to file the reply’. Now that is insensitivity,” said Justice Lokur.
He was delivering the keynote address to mark the release of a report on the condition of transgender persons in Indian prisons, prepared by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Justice Lokur did not take any name.
Tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, 83, who was arrested last month for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad case, had on November 6 applied to a special NIA (National Investigation Agency) court in Mumbai seeking a straw and a sipper cup in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai, where he is lodged.
“I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson’s,” his plea said, referring to a debilitating disorder of the central nervous system.
The court, whose permission is required for materials to be sent in from outside jail premises, set the next hearing for November 26.
When the date came (on Thursday), the NIA told the Mumbai court that it had not taken the straw and the sipper from the activist during his arrest, as claimed by Swamy.
The special court then rejected his application, following which Swamy moved a fresh application. He sought permission to use a straw and sipper as well as winter clothes inside the prison. Adjourning the matter till December 4, the court demanded reply from the jail authorities.
On Friday, Justice Lokur was stressing the need to sensitise lawyers assisting the district and state legal services authorities when he broached Swamy’s case, without naming the activist.
“A minister in the state cabinet said ‘give him the straw, give him the sipper’. But does something like this have to go to a minister of a cabinet? For a straw or for a sipper? These are issues where legal aid lawyers can make a difference.
“I would request all the secretaries and members of the district legal services authorities and the state legal services authorities that you have to sensitise your lawyers as well. That this is something which could have been taken care of in the case of the super senior citizen on day one, rather than 20 days or for a national investigating agency to file a reply and investigate this,” said Justice Lokur.
Satej D. Patil, minister of state for home in Maharashtra, had tweeted on November 7 that “necessary care has been taken regarding providing of straw and proper medical attention has also been provided as per prison rules”.
At a webinar on Freedom of Speech and Judiciary in September, Justice Lokur had said free speech, including by youngsters and students, is being met with an “iron hand” by the State and thousands are being jailed for voicing their opinion against the government.