Nagpur: The Delhi High Court on Friday asked the Superintendent of Nagpur Central Jail to make available certain books to a death row convict in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings case either in physical form or their soft copy. The High Court said the publications shall be made available to convict Ehtesham Qutubuddin Siddique, lodged in Nagpur Jail, within four weeks failing which he is at liberty to file an appropriate plea before the court, media reports said.
The court took into consideration the submission of the counsel for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) who said they have asked the Nagpur Prison authorities to purchase the books and give it to the convict if he is not entitled to access the internet in jail.
“Considering this stand, the Superintendent of Nagpur Central jail shall make available the books to the petitioner either in physical form or a soft copy within four weeks,” Justice Prathiba M Singh said. The High Court disposed of the petition filed by the convict on seeking copies of certain publications free of cost under the RTI Act. The Ministry’s counsel said the books sought for are quite expensive.
Siddique was given capital punishment for the July 11, 2006 serial blasts when seven RDX bombs ripped through many Western line local trains in Mumbai leading to the death of 189 persons and injuring 829.
In his plea, the convict said he has completed several courses provided by IGNOU free of cost in jail and wishes to know more about various topics, books and materials. Since various topics are not available in the prison library, he sought hard copies of those publications or books under the provisions of the RTI Act.
Advocate Arpit Bhargava, appearing for Siddique, said the prisoner had mentioned in his RTI application that he was a person below poverty line and since he was in custody, and being a convict, he was entitled to all such publications or books “free of cost”.
However, the request was declined by the Publication Division of the Ministry of I&B and it was stated that since books or publications referred in RTI application are priced ones, they cannot be supplied free of cost to general public under any circumstances and he was advised to contact the Sales Emporium in Mumbai for buying them or to purchase online.
His first and second appeal before the First Appellate Authority (FAA) and the CIC, respectively, were dismissed after which he approached the High Court.
“It is the fundamental right of the petitioner (Siddique) to have access to and acquire education and knowledge and a democratic government is under an obligation to provide means to spread education and knowledge to its citizens irrespective of the fact that a person is in jail or not,” the convict said in his plea before the High Court.
“The CIC failed to appreciate that by denying to provide publications ‘free of cost’ to the petitioner, the fundamental right to education of the petitioner is being violated by the respondent. CIC and respondent failed to appreciate the distinction between general public and persons below poverty line and the real purpose as to why persons below poverty line were exempted from paying fees under RTI Act,” it said.
The plea sought direction to the ministry to provide him information under the RTI Act as per his application.