Neighbours and relatives of Mokhtar Alam protest his death near Mission Chowk in Ranchi on Friday. Telegraph picture
The death of an undertrial of Birsa Munda Central Jail has brought back the focus on security arrangements at the state’s largest prison with his relatives claiming that he had been burnt by a fellow inmate and did not commit suicide as claimed by the authorities.
Mokhtar Alam (27), who was arrested and forwarded to judicial custody three months ago for allegedly setting his 22-year-old wife, Gulnar Parveen, on fire for dowry, was found with severe burns in the jail’s bathroom on January 23.
The jail authorities, which said at the moment that Mokhtar tried to commit suicide by setting himself ablaze, admitted him to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) with 80 per cent burns. With his condition deteriorating, Mokhtar was shifted to Tata Main Hospital on January 25 for specialised treatment.
But he succumbed on January 27.
The incident sparked sharp criticism from the deceased’s family members, who claimed that the jail, which is known for frequent fights and skirmishes among prisoners, lacked adequate security that led to Alam’s murder by another inmate.
According to Mokhtar’s younger brother Altamas Alam (13), he had told him before dying that he was set on fire by a man in the jail’s bathroom.
“I had spoken to my brother during his stay at the hospital. He told me that a fat, dark complexioned black man poured kerosene on him and lit a matchstick when he was in the bathroom. He had also said that he would have been alive had the jail administration arranged proper security for him as the killer, who is from Bokaro, had been threatening him from the very first day of his stay in the jail. He used to say that the jail is a heaven for the rich, but hell for poor like us,” cried Altamas during a demonstration against the death at Mission Chowk on Ranchi-Purulia Road on Friday.
Mokhtar’s neighbour, who also took part in the protest, also lashed out at the prison bosses.
“It’s no secret that all influential and rich prisoners of Birsa Munda Central Jail have phones. Over 50 cellphones are at work behind the bars. One can be killed anywhere anytime in the jail, provided he has money to seal the lips of the officials,” he added.
Mokhtar left behind a five-year-old son, Adil, and one-year-old daughter Tamanna. His three brothers — Aftab (18), Gudda (15) and Altamas — were also financially dependant on him.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the security apparatus at Ranchi jail. Several incidents in the past had stressed on the need for overhauling the existing arrangements.
For instance, on October 31, 2011, former chief minister Madhu Koda, then staying in the jail after being booked in money laundering cases, was roughed up by the employees after he protested against poor facilities and food. Koda landed in RIMS with a fractured elbow and a hurt ego.
A judicial inquiry was set up to probe the case, but the report never came out in the public domain.
Earlier on June 5 in the same year, three prisoners died hours after consuming what appeared to be spurious soft drinks offered by a visitor.
When contacted, IG (prisons) Shailendra Bhusan expressed concern over the death of the undertrial, but could not say what led to it.
“A case was registered at Sadar police station after the undertrial sustained burns in the jail. The probe report, which is yet to come, can alone tell the truth,” he said.
Bhusan, however, said that such incidents were not unheard of behind the bars. “The inmates remain frustrated and depressed. Hence, such incidents are possible,” he said.
Asked about the report of the inquiry into the Koda episode, he expressed ignorance.
“I joined the department just four months ago and was outside the state on election duty for one month and a half. I don’t have any idea about the report so far. That incident took place before I took charge,” he said.
At present, the 40-acre jail, which houses around 2,700 prisoners, including 250-odd Maoists, has only 280 contractual guards. There are hardly 22 wardens against the sanctioned strength of around 400.
Out of the 16 CCTV cameras installed, only two are operational.
Is the state government doing enough to secure jails?