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Jail heaven for rich, hellhole for poor

Accommodation: Rs 3,000-10,000

Meal (three-course): Rs 2,000-5,000

Special tax: Rs 500-1,000

No, we are not advertising some swanky new hotel in town. This, apparently, is the dough undertrials and convicts at Birsa Munda Central Jail, Ranchi, need to cough up for star treatment from a bunch of avaricious prison officials.

So, almost like the Big B movies of the Eighties, the poor survive on watery dal and blackened chapattis, and sleep on the floor or, if lucky, moth-eaten mattresses while the rich and powerful savour chicken curry and fresh rotis, and lounge around in wards of their choice.

The deal is easy to cut with all the 16 CCTV cameras on the jail premises lying defunct for months and jammers seldom being able to block all wrong signals.

The chinks in the security armour of a central jail with more than 3,000 prisoners, some of them hardened criminals, once again came to the fore during a raid on August 10. A team of 100 policemen reportedly combed every corner of the prison for three hours from 4am, but managed to recover only three fruit knives, seven sets of playing cards and an FM radio.

City SP Ranjit Prasad said the action had been prompted by information on frequent use of cellphones in the jail. “But we did not recover any handset or SIM card. The knives are small, perhaps used to cut vegetables or fruits,” he said.

Prasad, however, conceded that he had come to know only during the raid that all the CCTVs were lying defunct and there were pockets where the jammers do not work.

While jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan was happy to confirm that the police had found nothing objectionable in his prison, sources indicated that the raid was eyewash. “All cellphones, SIMs, alcohol bottles, marijuana, et al were hidden much before the police reached,” an insider said.

Rampado Mahto, who was arrested last August in a murder case and was released after he got elected to the Hesal panchayat committee in Anagara block in December, also stressed that such raids were deceptive. “During my four-month stay in Birsa jail, I realised it is a world divided between the rich and the poor. The former lives like a king, the latter like a pauper. While the government has allocated Rs 45 per prisoner per day for food, the poor hardly get meals worth Rs 15 a day,” he claimed.

According to Mahto, the jail administration also appoints “writers” to divide and rule. “Some prisoners are selected by the prison authorities to work for them. They are called writers. They, with backing from the jail warden, terrorise and threaten other inmates. These writers collect money from inmates on behalf of the jail authorities for quality food and proper bed. At Birsa jail, most writers are convicts from Daltonganj and Jamshedpur,” he said.

Siman Lakra, a Jharkhand State Housing Board employee, who had been in the jail from September 15, 2010, to March 6, 2011, after vigilance sleuths caught him red-handed accepting bribe, echoed Mahto. “For a bed in good wards like 9A and 14A, you pay a special tax of Rs 500-1,000 a month; for a decent bed, the cost is Rs 3,000-10,000 per month; and for good food, you shell out Rs 2,000-5,000 every month. Jail is heaven for those who can spend Rs 10,000 to 14,000 a month and hell for those who cannot,” he claimed.

Pradhan admitted the availability of “consumer items at higher rates”, saying that they had to take labour cost and commission for those who run the canteen into account, but denied special approach towards influential inmates. “Equal treatment is meted out to all. No undue facility is given to anyone,” he said, adding that the CCTV cameras weren’t functioning despite his “best efforts”.

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