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Conspiracy of absence

Calcutta, Sept. 26: The government today said yesterday’s escape of five prisoners from Dum Dum jail appeared to be a “big conspiracy” and admitted that there was gross negligence on the part of jail authorities.

Jails secretary P.K. Agarwal said at Writers’ Buildings that the superintendent of the jail, M.M. Chowdhury, had been served a show-cause notice. Three warders, Pradip Dutta, Saral Ram and Upendra Pande, were suspended last night.

Sheikh Binod, a feared extortionist, along with four others escaped on Thursday afternoon by climbing up a ladder that was left resting against the inside boundary wall.

“The escape looks like a big conspiracy. We admit it was gross negligence on our part,” said Agarwal. He, however, ruled out involvement of top jail officials.

The suspicion of a conspiracy gains ground as the escape was timed with the release of a large group of prisoners.

“The jail superintendent was busy in his office as 36 prisoners were being freed,” Agarwal said.

He said Chaitanya Pal, a former inmate, had been given the job of cleaning pipes and drains. Pal, who got out on bail six months ago, had gained entry into the jail through an NGO — Prisons Fellowship India — which taught prisoners computers and watch-repairing.

“Pal was called in because the PWD refused to do it as it was a small job,” Agarwal added.

Asked how the jail authorities could leave an undertrial to repair a water pipe perched on a ladder without a warder to stand guard, Agarwal said: “Obviously there was negligence. The jail superintendent should have applied his mind.”

The warder, Pradip Dutta, who was detailed to guard Pal, disappeared during the escape, which adds to the government’s suspicion of a conspiracy.

The jails secretary also blamed the superintendent for not having the state armed police guard — taken away during the panchayat polls in May — repositioned at the watchtower.

“He should have written to the police about it after the panchayat polls were over.”

Agarwal said the latest closed-circuit TV cameras would be installed in central jails. “For Alipore and Presidency jails we have taken up a Rs 60-crore scheme.”

At Dum Dum yesterday, the camera — an outdated equipment — positioned near the wall from where the escape was made did not cover the entire area. Besides, there is a possibility that it may have stopped working because of the heavy rain at the time.

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