Justice N. Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court on Tuesday criticised the State government for “blowing hot and cold” on issues related to seven convicts who had been languishing in jail for last 28 years for having assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The judge wondered why the government, which had taken the “extreme decision” of releasing all seven convicts, was now not allowing two of them, S. Nalini and her husband V. Murugan alias Sriharan, to even talk over the phone to their relatives in Sri Lanka and London. He raised the question during the hearing of a habeas corpus petition filed by Nalini’s mother S. Padma seeking permission for her daughter and son-in-law to make WhatsApp video calls to the latter’s mother Somani Ammal in Sri Lanka and sister Raji in London.
The petitioner stated that Murugan’s father Vetrivel had died in Sri Lanka on April 27 and hence the couple wanted to call the relatives and console them on the phone. She also said, the prison authorities were now permitting video calls due to the lockdown to fight COVID-19.
However, opposing her plea, State Public Prosecutor A. Natarajan told the court that prisoners were being allowed to make video calls only within Tamil Nadu, and not to foreign countries, since personal interviews had been suspended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He also feared that if the couple were allowed to make video phone calls to foreign countries, it would set a bad precedent as other foreign prisoners here might also want to make video calls to their relatives. It would be difficult for the authorities to monitor those calls, he said.
“If a foreign prisoner talks in Arabic over the phone, prison officials cannot follow the language. It will become a national security issue,” he added.
Unconvinced, the judge agreed with petitioner’s counsel M. Radhakrishnan that it was a well-known fact that Nalini and Murugan were Tamilians and they could be asked to converse only in Tamil.
“Even if there was any difficulty in allowing the two convicts to make a video call to a foreign country, you could have allowed them to make at least an audio call through the landline. No doubt, they are merciless convicts but that does not mean we should also not show any mercy to them.
“After all, the convicts want to condole the death of Murugan’s father. Their plea could have been considered humanely,” the judge said and granted time till Thursday for the SPP to get instructions from the officials concerned.
Sitting along with him in a Division Bench, Justice R. Hemalatha also wanted to know how the State government was permitting prisoners to make video phone calls when the Union Home Ministry had in 2010 insisted upon installing jammers in all prisons across the country to prevent the use of mobile phones.