Meat, TV & alcohol on demand: are the Bhujbals getting VIP treatment in jail?
Chhagan Bhujbal, the veteran Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, seems to be in for more trouble.
After facing heat over getting special treatment at a private hospital in Mumbai, despite being jailed on charges of money laundering, Bhujbal is now alleged to have been given VIP treatment in Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail, where he is lodged along with his nephew Sameer.
Anjali Damania, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader from Mumbai, has alleged that Bhujbals have been getting VIP treatment for the last five months. She has even written to jail authorities seeking an investigation into the matter.
Damania wrote a letter to the Additional Director General, Prisons, BK Upadhyay, on 16 May, pointing out the preferential treatment.
“The Bhujbals are getting facilities such as television to watch movies, non vegetarian food of their choice, fruits every two hours. Sameer Bhujbal is even getting alcohol of his choice on demand,” Damania said in the letter written to Upadhyay, alleging that Sameer was being supplied vodka mixed with coconut water.
Before the letter on 16 May, Damania, claimed to have made several complaints via phone and SMS.
“My sources in Arthur Road Jail told that Sameer Bhujbal was also allowed a walk in the open for three hours. The mobile phone jammers installed near the cells where Bhujbals are lodged have been snapped, to allow free communication of the duo with the outside world. After my complaint, the jail authorities conducted investigations, but the official who conducted the investigations, too, favoured the Bhujbals,” Damania said.
After the complaints about a television being installed in the cell, the jail authorities claimed that it was for the purpose of video conferencing. “This is something unbelievable. If the television was for video conferencing, the jail authorities should explain why it was removed after my complaint. It is surprising that such important prisoners are not under CCTV surveillance in jail,” she said.
Following the complaint, Upadhyay has ordered inquiry into the allegations. “We have noted the complaints lodged by Anjali Damania. Necessary actions have been taken on the complaints lodged earlier. As far as the preferential treatment to the Bhujbals is concerned, DIG Prisons, Swati Sathe, has been deputed to conduct an inquiry into it. Proper legal action will be initiated in the irregularities after the inquiry,” said Upadhyay.
What happened at court
Damania also alleged that Chhagan Bhujbal was allowed to meet several people, including some contractors, when he was produced at the Prevention of Money Laundering Act Court this week. “He was there for three hours after the hearing was over. During this period, he is reported to have met many people from political circles as well as some contractors,” she said. This, despite the police authorities being aware that the judge was on leave, and the matter would not be heard.
Damania also alleged that Chhagan's son Pankaj threatened the approvers who had come to depose in PMLA case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate. “This is very serious, as neither the court clerk nor police personnel on duty objected to this brazen act of gross disregard for the law. In such high profile cases, the prisoners are not allowed to interact with people, and are immediately whisked away as soon as the court proceedings are over,” Damania said in the letter.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that such irregularities and instances of preferential treatment to Chhagan and Sameer Bhujbal have come to light. Earlier, Damania had filed a contempt petition against Dr TP Lahane, the dean of JJ Hospital, for allowing Bhujbal extended stay at a private hospital in Mumbai in the name of medical care.
“The matter was referred to Bombay High Court for contempt proceedings. It is proved beyond doubt, on the basis of video evidence, that Bhujbal was allowed free movement in the private hospital, without police security. And now, same thing is happening at Arthur Road Jail. It is very serious and calls for immediate intervention by senior officials,” Damania said.
Bhujbal hits back with defamation notice
Chhagan Bhujbal has denied the allegations, and issued a defamation notice to Damania.
In the legal notice issued to Damania, a copy of which is with Catch, Bhujbal has objected to the contents of the letter sent to Upadhyay.
The notice says that Damania should have made inquiries with the jail authorities to know the facts before levelling baseless allegations.
He also claimed that home cooked food is provided according to the orders by the Sessions Court.
“Regarding the allegation that vodka is sneaked in the jail mixed with coconut water, it is pertinent to note that coconut water or any liquid is not allowed in the jail,” says the notice.
It is also claimed in the notice that CCTV cameras are installed in barrack number 12, where Chhagan Bhujbal is lodged.
The notice says that Bhujbal Senior was made to wait for long time in the Special PMLA Court on 16 May as the judge who is presiding over the hearing was on leave and the matter was heard by the in-charge court.
“Since the baseless allegations have caused irreparable damage to the reputation of Chhagan Bhujbal, it is quantified at Rs 50,00,00,000 (fifty crore). You are liable to compensate for the defamation caused by the allegations,” the notice says.