Thirty five-year-old Harka Bahadur Chhetri, lodged in Alipore Central jail in connection with petty theft and robbery cases, should have been released long ago. But he continues to languish in a dingy cell. The reason: he has AIDS.
'Chhetri has stopped appearing in court after being tested HIV-positive. Instead, he has to be taken regularly to the School of Tropical Medicine (STM) for treatment,' deputy inspector-general of prisons Ramapada Bhattacharya told Metro on Monday.
Chhetri is the lone HIV-positive prisoner among the 18,000-odd lodged in jails across West Bengal. 'We have kept Chhetri in a separate cell, so that other inmates cannot mix with him,' the deputy inspector-general said.
Jail sources said Chhetri's segregation is causing him a lot of problems. Warders have stopped providing him food and medicines on a regular basis, fearing that they may contract AIDS from him. Besides, his clothes and utensils are also not being regularly cleaned, the sources said.
'Warders do not visit Chhetri's cell regularly. They do not serve him food, let alone medicines. Once in a while, some elderly warders take pity on him and send him some rice or vegetables through the gardening staff, so he can cook for himself,' said a jail official.
He added that though the jail doctors are supposed to examine Chhetri regularly and send reports to the STM, nothing is being done.
'In reality, Chhetri has nobody to take care of him,' said an elderly warder. The prisoner's problem has been further compounded by the fact that his family members and relatives stay in Kalimpong.
'His family could have alleviated his plight. But none of his relatives or family members have so far visited him,' the warder said.
Chhetri was arrested in Kalimpong on December 12, 2001, in connection with a dacoity. He was also booked under a theft case in 1991.
'He tested HIV-positive when he was lodged in the Kalimpong sub-jail in 2001. He was brought to the Alipore jail in April 2003 after the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital referred him to Calcutta for better treatment,' a jail official said.
Dr A.K. Ghosh of the STM confirmed that Chhetri 'is an AIDS patient and needs proper care and attention'.
The West Bengal Human Rights Commission has taken exception to the 'inhuman treatment' being meted out to Chhetri.