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HC seeks CBI, AAP govt reply on Shahabuddin's solitary confinement

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New Delhi, Mar 21: The Delhi High Court today sought responses from the CBI and the AAP government on controversial RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin's plea alleging that he has been kept in solitary confinement at Tihar Jail here since February last year against the law and without any court order.

The apex court on February 15 last year had ordered the shifting of Shahabuddin, now

facing trial in 45 criminal cases, from Siwan Jail in Bihar to the Tihar Jail, saying an accused cannot be allowed to "jettison the basic fundamentals of trial". Following the  direction, Shahabuddin was transferred to Tihar Jail on February 19, 2017.

A habeas corpus plea filed on behalf of the RJD strongman urged a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and P S Teji that the authorities be directed to produce Shahabuddin, currently lodged in central jail no. 2 of Tihar, before the high court.  It has also sought appropriate orders for his safety.

Taking note of the claims made in the petition, the bench directed the authorities to file their response by April 27 to the RJD leader's plea seeking his immediate removal from "solitary confinement".

The apex court had last year shifted Shahabuddin to Tihar Jail on the pleas filed by Asha Ranjan, the widow of slain Siwan-based journalist Rajdeo Ranjan, and Chandrakeshwar Prasad, whose three sons were killed in two separate incidents.

Advocate Rudro Chatterjee, who filed the plea on behalf of Shahabuddin, said his client was lodged in a "dingy and damp isolated cell without any proper source of natural light and air" in the high security ward of the Tihar prisons complex.

"The cell has an attached courtyard of similar size where he is let out on occasions, as per the whims and fancies of the respondents (Tihar jail and CBI). Otherwise, he does not even get access to natural light for days on end," the lawyer claimed.

Shahabuddin has alleged in his plea that he has been kept in solitary confinement without being ordered by any court. "Further, he has already been kept in such confinement for more than one year at a stretch, which could not have been sanctioned even as per the statute," his plea has said.

It said that he has also been denied canteen facilities, more specifically provision of eggs and milk, even though these were prescribed by the doctor at the time of his admission into the jail.

"Such denial of essential nutrients has further damaged the health of the petitioner. He has lost 15 kg weight since his transfer to Tihar because of provision of unhealthy and unwholesome food to him," the plea said, adding that these actions clearly establish that a "deliberate" attempt is being made by the authorities to "torture and dehumanise" him.

In such circumstances, "the possibility of major physical and/or mental medical conditions soon inflicting the petitioner cannot be ruled out," it said.

The plea said that even otherwise, solitary confinement can only be for a maximum period of 14 days at a stretch after which the prisoner ought to be taken out of such confinement.

"Further, the total quantum of imprisonment to be spent in solitary confinement cannot exceed three months in all, under any provision of any law. In the present case, the petitioner has already been solitarily confined for more than one year, without even a judicial order to that effect.

"Such a patently illegal and unconstitutional action cannot be permitted to continue and the petitioner ought to be forthwith taken out of solitary confinement," the plea said.

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