Ranchi, Nov. 28: Too many prisoners, too few watchmen — it is a pressure cooker situation at Birsa Munda Central Jail in Hotwar.
The state’s largest prison, which was already grappling with manpower crunch, is staring at far more difficult days ahead with two assistant jailers being transferred earlier this week, leaving the onus of 2,700-odd inmates — including 250-odd Maoists — on a superintendent, a jailer and an assistant jailer.
To make matters worse, more than a dozen of the jail’s 280 contractual guards and full-time wardens are on medical leave, ranging from three days to over a week, while an equal number of applications are pending at the superintendent’s office.
To man the 40-acre prison premises, the state home department had sanctioned eight posts of assistant jailer. Five of these have remained vacant for long. Of the remaining three assistant jailers, Deodhar Soren and Srikant were transferred to Sahebganj and Latehar subdivisional prisons on Tuesday and Friday, respectively, but strangely without replacements.
Birsa jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan confirmed the skewed transfers, but said orders had “come from above” and they had to abide by it. “Nothing can be done. Staff crunch is an open secret here. Still, we are trying to manage to the best of our capabilities,” he said.
Pradhan declined to comment on the reason behind the twin transfers, which has only compounded problems related to the day-to-day functioning of the jail.
Another prison official, however, agreed to elaborate on the condition of anonymity.
“Honestly speaking, more than hardcore rebels and criminals who are lodged here, people at the helm of state affairs have made functioning difficult for us. They are the biggest hurdle to proper monitoring of inmates,” he said, pointing to the prisoner-watchmen ratio.
The overcrowded Birsa jail, which has a capacity of 2,540, has a sanctioned and occupied post of superintendent. However, the same person is in charge of four subdivisional prisons, besides guarding high-profile inmates like former chief minister Madhu Koda, former MLA Sawna Lakra, former minister Anosh Ekka and top PLFI leaders Raj Kamal Gope and Pawan Gope at the Hotwar-based central jail.
Of the 333 posts for wardens, only 32 are occupied. But out of these wardens, 10 have been declared medically unfit. Of the rest, more than one-third is on leave owing to various reasons. The sanctioned strength for head warden is 74, of which 72 are vacant.
Of the 250 existing guards, more than 90 per cent are ex-service men working on contractual basis for a monthly stipend of Rs 10,000. At least 10-12 of them are resigning every month. The remaining few are jawans of the Jharkhand Armed Police.
“They work in three shifts to secure the premises from outside. But, what about administrative work piling up inside? On an average, 200 prisoners are produced in various courts for hearing every day, 35-40 summons, challans, et al, arrive from courts and hundreds of visitors come to meet inmates. Besides, there are reams of paperwork, which need to be done besides patrolling and surveillance. But, who has the time to do all these efficiently? Don’t be surprised if there is a jailbreak, given that CCTV cameras too don’t work,” the jail official said.
IG (prison) S.S. Tiwari, however, harped that all was well at the central jail.
“I don’t think there is any problem at Birsa jail because I didn’t get any official report. And talking of manpower crisis, it is beyond our control. We did our bit by sending requisitions for jailers and assistant jailers to Jharkhand Public Service Commission and Staff Selection Commission a year ago. When we get names of qualified candidates, we will hire,” he said.