Security suspect: The imposing gate of Birsa Munda Central Jail, Ranchi, belies its poor defence
The touted 40-acre solar fence is the latest addition to the defunct list of a porous Birsa Munda Central Jail — Jharkhand’s largest penitentiary with more than 2,500 inmates, roughly 20 per cent of them hardcore Maoists and criminals.
Taking prison defence a step ahead of man and machine power, the state had spent over Rs 45 lakh to top the existing 18-feet-high boundary wall of Birsa jail with a 4ft-high solar mesh to scorch breakouts. But, the sun’s shield lasted for exactly a day after Bangalore’s Ibex Engineering Private Limited installed it this January.
Jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan said he was not aware of what went wrong.
“Installation work was over by the first week of January. But, after a day’s trial run, something happened and the fence stopped working thereafter. An engineer of the company, who was here that day, told us that he too failed to understand the problem,” Pradhan said, adding that Ibex was yet to send a technical team to take stock of the situation.
Playing hide-and-seek is an old and favourite pastime of the Bangalore-based agency, which was selected through a tender process last year.
The solar fence project kicked off at Birsa jail in June-July 2012, when technical experts from Ibex and state PWD officials did a recce of the prison periphery. Soon after work began, the company’s engineers and its workforce disappeared only to show up again in December. Funds were harnessed and the project continued, offering a ray of hope to Birsa jail’s otherwise dodgy security.
“Par kya fayeda hua (But, what was the use)?” a veteran jail employee said matter-of-factly. “The fencing is useless if it is not working. We have apprised our seniors, but nothing has been done so far,” he added.
His concern is legitimate.
Unlike an electric fence, a solar fence emits a sharp, short, painful, but safe shock, which causes no physical damage. The fence is meant to act as a strong psychological barrier to any intruder or inmate planning escape. And it is only after a period of conditioning that its mere presence may be an effective hurdle to jailbreaks.
The central prison is heavily dependent on custom security because more than 90 per cent of its posts for wardens and other jail officials are lying vacant. In fact, the few in service are either medically unfit or too old for the job.
If manpower is in sorry state, machines are on the blink too.
Under the statewide prison modernisation project a few years ago, Birsa jail received a pack of gadgets — from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to jammers and scanners. For the past two years, all the 16 CCTV cameras have remained blind, while 2G jammers are unable to block 3G phone signals.
Pradhan admitted that problems were aplenty and solutions few.
“Manpower crunch and defunct machines are issues that the state needs to sort out. We have communicated the shortcomings from our end. Despite challenges, we are doing our best to prevent any untoward incident,” he sounded genuinely helpless.
The solar fencing project was initiated under IG (prisons) S.S. Tiwari, but he retired on February 28.
His successor Ashok Kumar Sharma, who assumed charge two days ago, said he was yet to go through files related to the solar fence. “I will try to do everything in my capacity to plug the gap,” he kept it brief.
Should a new agency be roped in to maintain the solar fence?