The UK must look at its own jails before insisting on video evidence of the conditions at the jail where India proposes to hold Mallya.
A UK court insisting that Indian authorities pursuing Vijay Mallya’s extradition provide video evidence that the cell the latter are proposing to jail Mallya in—if he is extradited—has ample “fresh air” and “natural light”, reeks of a complete lack of grace. It is especially rich coming from a country where, as per an investigation by The Observer, a British weekly, two-thirds of the jails offer inmates either inadequate conditions or unacceptable treatment. It is hard to fathom why judge Emma Arbouthnot felt that India’s submission of photographs of Barack 12 at the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai—where Mallya is proposed to be held—were inadequate. India had told the court that the barack had both fresh air and natural light with a private, Western-style toilet and clean bedding—call it luxury that only VIP inmates get in India, if you will, but that should have sufficed. While the UK’s extradition policy for category 2 jurisdictions—India is classified as such—necessitates that the court be satisfied that the human rights of the person to be extradited will not be violated, the conditions of the cell that awaits Mallya complies with guidelines set by the National Human Rights Commission, the lawyer representing India had told the court.
Judge Arbouthnot’s court would do well to remember the UK’s rather murky history on jail conditions and jail riots—the 2016 Birmingham prison riots, arguably one of Britain’s worst, was triggered, among other reasons, because of an alleged lack of dental care for inmates. The Observer investigation showed that conditions in 41% of the UK’s prisons had actually worsened since the last inspection, with the worst offenders bursting at the seams from overcrowding. Prison suicide rates in the UK, as per the Howard League for Penal Reform that campaigns for better conditions in prisons, are the highest in 40 years. The inmate-suicide rate in the UK is 10 times that of the rate of the rest of the population—in 2016, 106 inmates in UK jails killed themselves, mostly over poor conditions, compared with 77 in India in 2015. Conditions in Indian jails may not be ideal, but they are likely not worse than that in the UK.