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Tainted-cell facelift for judge visit

Malda, Aug. 29: Justice Sujit Roy Burman’s visit to the town tomorrow to inspect the lock-up in which two undertrials suffocated to death earlier this month has sent the administration scurrying to spruce up the dinghy, windowless cell.

Work is on at a feverish pace to complete electrification of the lock-up at the Malda district jail. The work, officials said, will be complete before the Calcutta High Court judge arrives. The inmates have for the time being been moved to waiting police vans lined up nearby.

Secretary of the Malda Bar Association Asit Basu said four weeks had passed since the lock-up deaths but little has been done.

“We will tell the judge what happened that day. Though the human rights commission team completed its inquiry and a storm was raised over the condition of prisons in general, nothing has been done to better the situation.”

Basu pointed out that only six police personnel had been suspended in connection with the deaths.

“Though there are other parties who are equally responsible, they have not been punished,” he said.

Citing reasons that led to the August 1 tragedy, Basu said the lock-ups were crowded primarily because the certified copies of court rulings were not made available in time.

“Even though the law categorically specifies that urgent matters need to be certified within 24 hours of the ruling, it takes around 20 days for the personnel to get them ready,” Basu said. “When a bail application takes so long, the lock-up is bound to get crowded,” he said, adding that the judiciary was as guilty as the police.

Things are made worse by the officials’ propensity to take bribes. “We got ample proof of this when during the tragedy, inmates had to pay as much as Rs 60 to get themselves some water,” said Nirmal Das, leader of the Malda law clerk union.

“We (Bar Association members) have decided to put an end to the malpractice and have also asked our clients to refrain from it,” Basu added.

The Bar Association has already filed a case in Calcutta High Court to bring others involved in the lock-up case to book. The district magistrates, superintendent of police, finance minister, subdivisional judicial magistrate and home secretary have been made a party to the case.

“The wheels of justice are turning agonisingly slow,” Basu said. The bar association secretary hoped the process will gather speed after the judge’s visit.

Basu asserted that he had addressed the same issues when district judge Keya Basu had recently visited the association. “She has promised to look into the matter,” he added.

Even as the police gear up to give themselves a clean chit, they find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. Caught between the call of duty and the fear of a sequel to the tragedy, they prefer turning a blind eye to minor offences to avoid cramming prisons all over again.

“What is the use of performing your duty if all you get is a suspension notice at the end of it all'” ask police officials.

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