The Bombay High Court on Monday called for response from the Home department of Maharashtra government in a public interest litigation petition seeking immediate steps to ensure that telephonic or electronic modes of communication is implemented in all prisons in the State [Peoples Union for Civil Liberties & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra]..The plea filed by NGO, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), stated that when prison mulaqats had been stopped in 2020 due to the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the prison authorities provided telephone and video conference facilities to prisoners to speak with their respective lawyers and relatives. These facilities were provided across the board irrespective of the nature of offence with which a person was charged with or convicted, the plea pointed out. .However, this facility was abruptly stopped in the year 2021 by the prison authorities, advocate Rebecca Gonsalves appearing for PUCL claimed. She stated that after decline in COVID cases across the State, physical meetings between prisoners and their lawyers or relatives resumed and hence calling facilities were restricted. .A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and VG Bisht enquired whether there was a circular or any official government document issued withdrawing these facilities of voice or video calls.To this, Gonsalves responded that there seemed to be no official circular withdrawing the facilities which were available to all prisoners and such abrupt withdrawal was arbitrary. .The Bench asked Additional Government Pleader AR Patil to take instructions from the Additional Director General of Prisons, Home Department of Maharashtra, on the circular issued, if any. "Service has been effected in March, we are now in May. Today is first day, does not mean you take time. This is an important issue." CJ Datta remarked.The matter will be heard again on May 4. .The plea filed through advocate Mihir Joshi, claimed that the facility to make calls from prisons was available to inmates independently of the notification issued in February 2019 and government memo of May 2020. The notification of 2019 stated that the inmates are allowed to make a monthly call for 10 minutes. This facility was made available to all inmates excluding prisoners convicted for terrorism, sedition, naxalism and organised crimes, the plea underscored. .Replacing voice and video calls with physical mulaqats is extremely near sighted and contrary to legal provisions and causes unnecessary hardships on the family members and legal representatives, the organisation claimed in the PIL. "When technology exists to bridge the geographic divide, not to use the same, especially in the light of fact that the technology was used and implemented successfully during pandemic would be extremely arbitrary and would amount to violation of the inmates' constitutional rights," PUCL stated. The PIL sought implementation of the Model Prison Manual of 2016 which includes a provision that a Superintendent of Prisons may allow prisoners to use telephones or electronic modes of communication to contact his family and lawyers upon making payment. .The PIL, therefore, sought the following reliefs:To implement provisions of telephones or electronic modes of communication in terms of the Model Prison Manual in all prisons across Maharashtra;Set aside any decision of the government to discontinue telephones or electronic modes of communication as the same is in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India;To declare that the provisions of telephones or electronic modes of communication is covered under the scope of interviews as defined under Facilities to Prisoners of 1962.