PUNE: The use of video conferencing (VC) systems in jails for producing unde trial prisoners (UTPs) before courts across the state has picked up once again, edging close to pre-pandemic levels. And, this is saving much-needed time, money and manpower for the police. In 2019, over 1.23 lakh UTPs were produced before courts via VC, but the numbers dropped to 55,434 in 2020 due to the Covid lockdown, with most courts closed and many prisoners released on emergency bail and parole. In 2021, the process picked up again gradually, with 87,580 UTPs produced via the VC system; it touched 99,130 in 2022. Both police and jail officials said that the internet and VC system have indeed helped perennially short-staffed police units reduce the burden of sparing personnel to escort UTPs from jail to court and back. This has further reduced risk of UTPs escaping from custody of police escort teams, and bad practices like food and liquor parties during transit. For instance, on April 11, 2017, three criminals on police records had escaped from the custody of their escort party by pushing them aside in Katraj ghat, where their police van had stopped for some time on the way back to Yerawada jail from a court in Satara district. The use of VC has also saved money, said officials. Additional director general of police (prisons) Amitabh Gupta said, “It is better to produce inmates via VC instead of physical production in courts as the latter is time-consuming. We have occasionally come to the realization that the accused were brought to court in escort simply to get the next hearing date. Many courts now hold trials via VC using prisoners who have been released from jail. According to Pune police commissioner Retesh Kumarr, “VC does not require police escort for UTPs, saving lakhs of rupees. We have plans to further scale up the system. Otherwise, a lot more security and labor will be needed throughout the state’s districts, not only in Pune. The VC system prevents unethical behavior like police or jail staff members offering UTPs alcohol or drugs while they are in transit. Avdhut Chimalkar, a special prosecutor during the Telgi fraud, stated, “The UTPs are produced before courts at the time of framing charges and seeking instructions from the defense, not for recording evidence of witnesses, etc.” It also lessens the likelihood that detainees will escape from detention. Over time, the VC system has evolved. For instance, the clarity and sound are better. For communication with the accused following the pandemic, judges, prosecution, and defense attorneys have each been given a microphone. The system is efficient. According to lawyer Milind Pawar, “About 70% of courts in Pune are equipped with VC systems. For instance, mafia don-turned-politician Arun Gawli was brought from Nagpur Central Jail to the Supreme Court to hear an appeal against conviction and before an MCOCA court in Mumbai. UTPs are only brought before the court for technical purposes, such as obtaining signatures and conducting an identification parade. In order to communicate with the accused when they are brought in from jail, some courts, like one in Wadgaon Maval, have connected the system to laptops and exchanged links with the defense and prosecution on smartphones.
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