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Who says cellphones are banned from jail?
- Jharkhand stuck with prison code of 1894 when people said hello to black, bulky & stationary devices

Beep, beep, where is it written that cellphones are banned on Birsa Munda Central Jail premises?

Authorities of the central jail in Ranchi’s Hotwar, who don’t turn a hair while hosting former chief ministers, legislators, industrialists and other VIPs, fumble for answers if asked to furnish documents stating cellphones are banned on prison premises.

A duo from Simdega, who came to meet their relative behind bars, were asked by jail security staff to submit their cellphones.

Nothing unusual in the request, but the response certainly was. The visitors asked jail authorities to show them a copy of the model prison manual that stated cellphones were banned.

“Show us where it has been written that we can’t carry cellphones inside,” the duo reportedly said, turning the faces of jail authorities into a fine shade of beetroot.

For, Birsa central jail still follows the prison manual enshrined in the venerable 120-year-old Prison Act 1894.

Back then, cellphones were not even stuff of science fiction.

Though cellphones, along with knives, gutkha, laptops and sundry other items, are banned as threats to internal jail security, there is no document that explicitly states the mobile phone is a contraband item.

In 2003, the Indian government drafted a model prison manual, but Jharkhand, around 2004-05, adopted only a few things from the new-age version — for instance, CCTV camera surveillance, vocational training for inmates, holiday on Sunday — leaving out the cellphone bit.

The defiant questioning of Simdega visitors last week — apparently they repeated their query for two whole hours, prompting other visitors to sit on a mini-dharna in their support — has sparked valid fears among jail authorities.

“We fear similar questions from others. It will be tough to manage visitors coming to meet thousands of inmates serving time here as undertrials or convicts,” said one.

Jail officials are themselves in the dark about why Jharkhand state has not junked the 1894 colonial rule book and adopted the 2003 manual properly or prepared a modernised version of their own.

“Bihar and Odisha, to my knowledge, have categorically notified mobile phones as contraband. We haven’t. Anyone can challenge us about this lack of notification on mobile phones in court. It is sheer negligence on part of the state government,” a disgruntled jail official said.

Jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan didn’t want to speak much on the issue but conceded they “did not have a formal government letter to ban cellphones”.

Inspector-general (prisons) Shailendra Bhushan said formal notification wasn’t everything. “Even if a formal notification is absent, it doesn’t mean mobiles can’t be banned. We follow an old jail manual, drafted when mobile phones didn’t exist. But, jail authorities can ban it on grounds of security as it is within his/her jurisdiction to take a call,” Bhushan said.

Now, convince the visitors.