Sunil Kumar Burnwal (centre) with the Digital Inclusion Award 2012 silver trophy in New Delhi on Tuesday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Sept. 18: If a prison is an institution for corrective reform and prisoners human beings with social ties, why a thick wire mesh during visiting hours, wondered a Jharkhand bureaucrat a couple of years ago.
State labour commissioner Sunil Kumar Burnwal, who was then IG (prisons), did not end his musings with a sigh. The dynamic bureaucrat launched videoconferencing in Dhanbad divisional jail in 2010, for which he and his team received the Digital Inclusion Award 2012 silver trophy here today in the presence of Cabinet minister Salman Khurshid and UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani.
Skoch Consultancy Services Private Limited, a boutique strategy and management consulting firm, hands out this annual award to salute exemplary use of technology.
Burnwal’s innovative service digitally linked the prison with common service centres at various blocks where relatives of inmates could come. It ensured a clear e-interface between an inmate and his relatives, with visual and sound clarity and best of all — no dehumanising wire mesh. Its success prompted Jharkhand government to replicate this service across all the 26 jails in the state.
Now, Burnwal’s simple brainwave — something on the lines of Skype — has received a fancy name. It is called video visitation at prisons in the state.
But the man remains down to earth.
“The plight of prisoners and their relatives during visitations in jails moved me. The prisoners couldn’t even see their loved ones through the wired mesh that divided them. They couldn’t meet all their relatives as time was limited. Children and women were excluded, which meant that prisoners could not see their own sons and daughters, wives and mothers. I wanted to help them see their relatives clearly and feel good about it,” said Burnwal.
True, prisoners and their relatives, friends and children now see each other digitally. Relatives don’t have to wait for hours in long queues. Another happy fallout was the fact that it slashed the cost of travel for poor families. They didn’t have to reach the divisional jail in the city, they just went to the nearest block centre.
“Now, people go to the block-level common service centre that is equipped with Internet to talk to their jailed kin by paying only Rs 10 for a chat of 15 minutes,” said Burnwal.
“Every jail will eventually have a studio to enable convicts to speak to their families. It will be linked with the block-level cyber cafes, which too would have studio facility. But even right now, 5,000 prisoners are taking advantage of the system. We are hoping to include all 13,000 prisoners in all Jharkhand jails,” said Burnwal.
On a personal level, Barnwal said this job gave him a great sense of satisfaction.
“I believe that prisoners are human beings and almost 90 per cent of them repent their misdeeds when they land up behind bars. The time that we give them with families makes them more inclined to take part in correctional programmes that we conduct in jails,” he said.
It also has a happy effect on families.
“We felt it was essential to address problems of the families of a jailed person. They become victims of society, which looks down upon them,” Burnwal added.
His own personal wow moment?
“Once, a prisoner saw his child for the first time on video. He started crying. I was so touched,” said Burnwal.