"Is there a parallel system running in jails?," the Supreme Court asked Thursday while referring to media reports that LED TV, sofa and other prohibited items were found in a Tihar jail cell where Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra and his brother Ajay have been lodged.
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur asked the Centre what action has been taken in the matter. It said a report by Additional Sessions Judge, who carried out an inspection in the jail on September 4 following complaints from inmates that the Chandra brothers and others were enjoying "luxurious lifestyle", was already available.
"Report of a judge says that Unitech officials are enjoying facilities in Tihar. Is there a parallel system running in jails? Do they have special rights in jails? What have you done about it?," the bench, also comprising justice Deepak Gupta, asked the Centre's counsel. "These persons are enjoying TV. God knows what all they are enjoying. They are sitting on sofas," the bench observed. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, appearing for the Centre, said that action must be taken in such cases and such instances have to be "tackled seriously". When the ASG said the top court was dealing with the issue related to a speedy trial for undertrial prisoners, the bench observed, "We are dealing with something which is shocking". "What is your government planning to do?," the bench asked Lekhi, who said he would get back to the court on this issue.
The court also flagged the issue raised in recent media reports about the use of mobile phones inside prisons in several states, including Bihar. The issue cropped up in court when it was hearing a matter related to deficiencies in jails as highlighted by two apex court judges (one of them has since retired) during their visit to Faridabad jail and an observation home in June this year.
Chandra brothers are presently lodged in Tihar jail for cheating home buyers. The Additional Sessions Judge, who carried out inspections in Tihar, said in his report submitted to the Delhi High Court that circumstances indicated "corruption" and "grave misuse of power" on the part of Director General (DG) Prisons and Tihar Jail officials.
The judge has recommended that an FIR be lodged against DG Prisons and officials of Tihar Jail. Such activities also pose an "extra burden on the public exchequer," he said. In his report, the judge noted that apart from household amenities, including mattresses, mustard oil, foot-mats and stools, in their cell, Chandra brothers also enjoyed a separate "office" room with a computer and internet access, a printer, as well as eatables and mineral water to drink.
The high court has taken suo motu cognisance of the report and along with a letter written by other inmates, turned it into a public interest litigation (PIL). A division bench of the high court has also issued notices to the Delhi government, Director General (DG) Prisons and senior officials of Tihar Jail seeking their response in this matter by February 1 next year.
The inmates in their letter to the court had claimed that while those arrested for financial crimes, like the Chandra brothers, were "enjoying an extra luxurious life in Tihar Jail" with a "separate VIP ward" for them, other prisoners were allegedly not getting sufficient food, drinking water, fruits and other necessities, including medical treatment.