Bombay High Court Orders State to Provide Prisoners with Phone and Video Call Access

The Bombay High Court has mandated that all prisoners in Maharashtra have access to phone calls and video conferencing facilities. This decision, issued last week by Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Arif S Doctor, comes in response to a public interest litigation brought by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties. The litigation demanded the implementation of telecommunication provisions as outlined in the Model Prison Manual, 2016.

During the proceedings on May 8, advocate Rebecca Gonsalves highlighted that a state circular had already established guidelines allowing inmates to make phone calls to four designated family members, friends, or their lawyer, and to engage in video calls. These calls are permitted for six minutes, three times a week, at a cost of ₹1 per minute.

For facilities lacking the Allen Group Smartcard phone service, the court has given discretion to the jail superintendent to make arrangements based on the number of inmates and available resources, ensuring that all necessary verifications of contact numbers are conducted.

Additionally, the circular specifies that undertrial prisoners may physically meet or video conference with up to five designated individuals once a week, while convicts are allowed such meetings once every fortnight.

However, the court declined to address issues related to the exclusion of Pakistani prisoners from these communication benefits, focusing instead on ensuring that the state provides the necessary infrastructure to facilitate these services for all other inmates across Maharashtra’s prisons.

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