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Lock-up bribe cry greets judges

Malda, Aug. 30: Agitated families of the prisoners lodged in the overcrowded district jail today stopped the car of the two visiting judges of Calcutta High Court and griped about the “bribes” they were required to pay to see the inmates.

“The jail staff ask for Rs 20 everytime we come to see a relative. We have to pay Rs 40 if we bring home-cooked meals for them. We are poor people, but still they make us pay,” Manu Sheikh of Kaliachak told Justice Sujit Roy Burman and Justice Arunabha Basu. Other relations of the inmates, who had gathered there and were fuming at the prison staff, echoed Sheikh. The jail houses 370 prisoners against its capacity of 299 inmates.

“Sir, please do something about it. If you don’t, who will'” Subhashis Sinha Roy, another relative, asked the judges who were sitting in the car. The judges, who heard complaints of “poor quality” of food from the inmates, gave the relatives a patient hearing before driving away.

Immediately afterwards, the agitated relatives surrounded jail superintendent Amal Ghosh and clamoured for an explanation. “Why do you pay the jail staff for visits to your relatives'” Ghosh asked in a feeble voice. “We are forced to. You know everything. Why are you feigning ignorance'” the relatives snapped back in chorus.

The judges arrived here today to take a look at the Malda court lock-up, where two men accused of petty crime had suffocated to death on August 1. They later paid a visit to the overcrowded Malda jail.

The lock-up had been wiped clean and sprayed with bleaching powder just before the visit. Work on a toilet-cum-bathroom had also been started in right earnest. Apart from exhaust fans, the lock-up will soon have drinking water taps.

A treasury officer said the government had sanctioned Rs 30,000 to make the cell bigger and reduce overcrowding, the cause of the two deaths. He said PWD engineers had already visited the lock-up for the purpose. A police officer said: “Once the work is complete, the lock-up will look like a hotel. You won’t be able to recognise it.”

Roy Burman said it was for the state government to maintain the court houses, including the lock-ups. “In courts, we hear cases and pass judgments, but everything else is taken care of by the government.”

When told that police had sold water to scores of accused crowded in the Malda court lock-up on August 1, Roy said it was shameful. “Even beggars going to a house for alms are given water if they ask for it.”

Roy Burman will visit the court lock-up tomorrow and talk to the local bar association and the district administration.

He had a long discussion with district judge Keya Basu today.

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