The jails in Punjab are in a mess and the two major incidents of violence during the month of June and the most recent one on 6th of July, 2019 have left the Punjab administration in a tizzy. The tall claims of bringing reforms in the jails have badly exposed the state government.
The first major incident of violence took place in the high security Nabha jail when two inmates of the jail killed Mohinder Paul Bittu, the main accused in the incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot district. Mohinder Paul Bittu who was executive member of high powered committee of the Dera Sacha Sauda which is headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim who is undergoing life imprisonment at Sunaria Jail in case of rape and murder.
Mohinder Paul Bittu who belonged to Faridkot district was allegedly responsible for the theft of Guru Granth Sahib from the gurdwara of Burj Jawahar Singh Wala and was arrested from Palampur in Himachal Pradesh.
The second incident of violence took place in Ludhiana jail just after five days of the murder of Mohinder Paul Bittu. The clash took place despite the fact that high alert had been sounded in the state after the killing of Bittu. The clash between the inmates and the jail staff took place after the news of a death of an inmate of Ludhiana prison at Patiala jail.
The clash was so fierce that the inmates almost overpowered the jail staff and the Punjab police reinforcements had to be sent to control the situation. One inmate was killed in the clash following police firing. The videos of the clash became viral after the Facebook accounts of some inmates posted the clash live.
On July 6, there was violence in Ludhiana Central Jail among the two groups who reportedly clash over distribution of meal among themselves. These incidents have shattered the state administration and the citizens are feeling concerned over the developing situation.
The Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has taken a serious view of the situation prevailing in the jails and has ordered the jails and home department of tighten the security in the jails.
As a matter of fact, the jails have become safe haven for the gangsters hardened criminals and radicals elements. The mobile phones are available with the inmates and the gangsters have created such an atmosphere that the jail authorities find themselves helpless in taking action against them. The gangsters run their writ in the jails and they throw challenges to their rivals from within the jails. Even the extortions take place on the instructions of the gangsters from inside jails.
The jail administration has not learnt any lesson from the major jail break in the high security jail Nabha in November 2006 when ten persons in police uniforms got six persons freed from the jail and the authorities remained baffled. What is the use of designating Nabha jail as ‘high security jail’ when such incidents are taking place.
The jails in Punjab have a mixed crowd of criminals namely gangsters, hardened criminals and radicals who rule the roost in the jails. The jail warders who are recruited from the ex-servicemen of Punjab are not paid heavy salary and the inmates give temptations to them and win them over with the result that the inmates can do anything they like to do. The jail warders are paid Rs. 10,000 per month which is considered meager keeping in view their duties.
The Punjab Government during the rule SAD-BJP Government had appointed one man commission comprising Justice Amar Dutt a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to suggest reforms for the jails. Justice Amar Dutt had submitted his report to the Government which was not implemented in full.
Punjab Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has blamed the SAD-BJP government mismanagement as a major cause for the present plight of the jails. He has alleged that the Akali government was not serious in checking the crime rate and the gangsters were not taken to task.
Randhawa maintains that the Congress government headed by Amarinder Singh had taken major steps to check the rot in the jails. The CRPF had been deployed in the jails to keep an eye on the activities of the criminals.
Hira Singh Gabria who was jail minister in the Akali Government has refuted the claim of Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and has maintained that they implemented the Justice Amar Dutt report and video conferencing of the inmates was one of the major step taken by his government.
The then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal used to make fortnightly review of the situation prevailing in the jails, he added. The Akali Government had setup six new jails and he would send his own men in jails for ten to fifteen days to get the reports, said Gabria.
As a matter of fact, the jails in Punjab are over crowded and there are about 28,000 inmates in the jails against the capacity of 20,000. In a latest review the Chief Minister Amarinder on July 4, has said that drone and CCTV cameras would be provided to jails in the state to keep an eye on the activities of the inmates.
The Chief Minister has also suggested segregation of the criminals in the jails including the gangsters and the radicals. They would be shifted to jails outside Punjab. This way the government would be able to prevent radicalization of the youth… and check the activities of the terrorists and gangsters.
The Punjab government has sought a sum of Rs. 100 crore from the Centre for strengthening the security in the jails of Punjab. The claim for this amount by the state government is on the basis of being a border state with a hostile neighbour Pakistan which keeps trying to engage the radical youth in Khalistan activities. Moreover, the drug trafficking is also increasing from Pakistan side.
The Chief Minister has told the jail department that the Punjab police personnel would be sent to the jails for collecting intelligence reports.
There are 700 vacancies of warders in the Punjab jails and four hundred have been filled and the Chief Minister has ordered that the remaining three hundred vacancies be filled up immediately.
The Punjab jail minister had proposed the installation of Jammers at the jails, but these are too costly and so no jammer has been acquired so far.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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