We are not country where one is told how to follow religion, Satyendar Jain tells court

Jailed Aam Aadmi Party minister Satyendar Kumar Jain on Thursday told a Delhi court that "we're not a country where we are told how to follow a religion".

PTIUpdated: Thursday, November 24, 2022, 10:21 PM IST
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Aam Aadmi Party minister Satyendar Kumar Jain | ANI

New Delhi: Jailed Aam Aadmi Party minister Satyendar Kumar Jain on Thursday told a Delhi court that "we're not a country where we are told how to follow a religion".

Jain made the submission during the hearing of his application, in which he has alleged that the Tihar jail administration had stopped giving him the food allowed "as per law" during his religious fast.

He was arrested in a money laundering case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) based on a CBI FIR lodged against him in 2017 under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

"At least right now we're not a country where we are told how to follow a religion. State is nobody to tell how to follow. My religion is my religion," Jain's counsel Rahul Mehra told Special Judge Vikas Dhull while reading the relevant rules on fast on religious beliefs inside jails.

During the arguments, Mehra also accused authorities of being "petty".

"State should be large hearted not petty. They can provide the four nuts that are prescribed and fruits and vegetables," he said.

The court heard the arguments and reserved its order on Jain's application for Friday.

It, meanwhile, allowed Mehra to withdraw the application moved on Wednesday to restrain the media from allegedly running CCTV camera footage from inside Jain's prison cell, after the defence counsel said that "we will move high court".

On Wednesday, a fresh row erupted after videos emerged of the jailed minister purportedly eating uncooked vegetables and fruits in his Tihar jail cell, with Union minister Meenakshi Lekhi alleging he is enjoying facilities akin to a holiday resort.

The videos surfaced after he moved court alleging he is not being provided raw food according to his religious beliefs.

The court had in an interim direction on Wednesday directed jail authorities to provide food to Jain during his religious fast in accordance with rules.

During the arguments on the application, seeking food according to Jain's religious believes, Mehra told the court on Thursday that he did not get proper food on Wednesday evening, despite the judge's direction.

"There are 20,000 prisoners in jail. How entire machinery is working that I do not get basic sustenance. And they (jail authorities) are spreading false information by spreading videos. How bias can your (authorities concerned) approach be," he said.

He added that by showing CCTV camera footage, jail authorities are "trying to portray me as I am not".

"They're trying to create pressure which comes inside the courtroom and orders are not passed," according to Jain's application.

"Please ask them. Is there a beauty parlour inside jail? Yes? Please ask the officer. He is here. Can someone take a massage* in jail? Yes? I have had surgeries. I have been advised physiotherapy," Mehra, representing Jain, said.

The ED had affirmed before the court on Tuesday it had no role in leaking the videos of Jain, including the one where he was seen receiving massage by a fellow prisoner, who is an accused in a rape case, inside his prison cell.

However, the purported videos are dated September 13 and October 1.

While pointing out the submissions made by authorities do not have the recent video footage, Mehra said, "They showed one from September. Now, when the court asked they don't have it. When ED wanted they had it. Now, they say they have deleted. This is the prejudice." The law officer appearing for the jail administration, Abhijit Shankar, told the court that it was wrong to expect from the prison administration to give special treatment to an inmate, claiming that it provides nutritional and balanced diet to all prisoners without any discrimination on caste, creed or religion.

He said that Jain was observing a particular fast about which he did not inform jail authorities, while showing a list of vegetables which are cooked for 20,000 prisoners.

Shankar told the court that fruits or vegetables are never provided by the jail administration but are taken by the prisoner himself.

"He is saying walnuts, etc not provided. If anyone wants fruits and vegetables, they can take from the jail canteen. Let me show you a pattern how intelligently it is done. On August 26, he stopped buying anything. He used the card of another inmate to buy things. We are conducting an inquiry into it. We have identified that prisoner," he said.

Shankar added that dry fruits are not allowed to anyone, except when a medical officer allows it or in cases of foreigners when an embassy writes it. He said that special food is not permitted to any prisoner belong to any particular religion.

"He can take fruits and vegetables if he wants to. If we do it for one person then the next day 200 people will start doing it," he said.

Jain's application sought a direction to Tihar officials to provide him food items such as fruits, dry fruits and dates according to his religious beliefs as he was observing a fast.

The ED had, during a bail hearing earlier, accused Jain of getting special treatment inside the jail.

Earlier, a Tihar jail superintendent was suspended for alleged involvement in providing special treatment to Jain in the prison.

The court had on November 17 denied bail to Jain and two others in the case.

He is accused of having laundered money through four companies allegedly linked to him.

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