Birsa Munda Central Jail
Ranchi, March 10: Newly appointed IG (prisons) Ashok Kumar Sharma may succeed in giving a mass makeover to Jharkhand’s 26 jails hosting nearly 30,000 inmates, starting with Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi, if he walks his talk.
Sharma, who joined on March 2, took The Telegraph’s report “Supercop sun loses spark at Birsa jail” on March 6 seriously enough to promise “immediate correctives” the very next day related to the defunct Rs 45.41-lakh solar fencing and conduct surprise raids across central, divisional and subdivisional jails.
On March 9, Sharma undertook his first “surprise visit” to Birsa jail to get a “first-hand feel” of the prison that has roughly 2,500 inmates.
Sharma spent three hours from noon onwards and inspected all aspect of the prison, including wards, security, kitchen, food served to inmates, among others. “He wanted to keep it low-key to get a real feel of how the jail functions and what its challenges are. As a confidence-building measure, he also spoke with officials to get their feedback,” said an official.
The IG, who held a meeting with director (jail administration) Ramesh Kumar Dubey in front of this correspondent at his Dhurwa office on March 7, had sought an explanation on why precisely the ambitious solar fencing functioned for a single day of “trial run” in January and stayed defunct thereafter.
Broadly, and unusually for a high-level officer, he also sought from The Telegraph a list of problems plaguing prisons across Jharkhand.
Dubey, who admitted that the solar fence — erected to prevent jailbreaks by emitting a non-fatal yet effective shock — suffered from a technical problem that had not been identified since two months, said he would collect details and remedy matters soon. Bangalore’s Ibex Engineering Private Limited, which had installed the fence, is missing in action.
Sharma, who wanted a holistic overview of problems faced by state prisons that lodge lawbreakers ranging from hardcore Maoists to high-profile politicians, also got a comprehensive picture.
For starters, Birsa Munda Central Jail, the state’s largest prison, has serious security lacunae in both infrastructure and manpower. CCTV cameras are defunct for over two years, 2G jammers can’t receive signals of 3G smartphones that prisoners use from behind bars, there is one jailer and one assistant when there should be three in each post, among others.
Across all the 26 prisons, including five central ones, there are around 1,200 sanctioned posts. While some would say this number itself is inadequate, the reality is hair-raising.
Only 10 per cent of sanctioned posts are filled by full-time security personnel — jailers, assistants, wardens and the like — while less than 10 per cent are ex-servicemen recruited contractually and paid Rs 10,000 per month.
It translates into over 80 per cent vacancies.
Also, many divisional and subdivisional jails have faulty or poor construction that makes breakouts a child’s play. For instance, three undertrial rebels fled from Chaibasa divisional jail on January 17, 2011, by cutting open window and ventilator grilles.
Dubey, admitting the problems, said that they planned to beef up security starting with central jails and turn them into “fortresses”.
“We have set the ball rolling. Work to fix the CCTV cameras has been started. A work order has been sanctioned to HCL through which we are procuring cameras. Jharkhand Agency for Promotion of Information Technology, our technical support partner, has assured us that all surveillance cameras will work within two and a half months in all the jails. It’s a Rs 6-crore project,” Dubey said, adding that 17 jails that did not have cameras would now get them.
Outside the state capital, sources hint that Hazaribagh central jail would be the first to get a surprise raid.
About vacancies, Sharma said it depended on government recruitment but his office would take up this matter on “priority basis” to find out an alternative workforce and prevent jailbreaks even in districts.
“Compared to my last posting (Sharma was the Sahebganj deputy commissioner), work pressure is less now. But I intend to step up the pace of work and make changes happen on the field rather than relaxing in office,” he had promised.