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Messi live in jail wards

Lionel Messi and Robin van Persie have “invaded” Bengal’s jails.

Passionate football fans among prisoners had forced authorities at central jails in the state to subscribe to channel bouquets containing SonySix and allow them to watch World Cup matches well into the small hours.

The jail code bars inmates from watching television in their wards after 8pm. “We had to make an exception for the World Cup,” said a senior official of Dum Dum jail.

Jail department sources said the authorities had approved the demand for SonySix. “The prison bouquet offered news channels (regional and national) and a few Bengali entertainment channels. Before the World Cup kicked off in Brazil last week, inmates in Presidency, Alipore, Krishnanagar, Dum Dum and Behrampore jails demanded that they be allowed to watch the World Cup,” said an official.

Jail superintendents then contacted additional director general (prisons) Adhir Sharma. “The proposal was ratified at the highest level. It was considered necessary to maintain peace in the jails. It was decided that the extra charge for the special channel package for two months would be paid from the prisoner welfare fund,” the official added.

Sources in Alipore and Presidency jails said the night atmosphere in wards had changed since the World Cup began. Undertrials and convicts mill around the telly, cheering their lungs out for Messi, Ronaldo, Persie, Neymar and the other stars.

The indulgence is part of the jail authorities’ plan to encourage sports within the prison population through a football league.

“We want the members of our football team to pick up skills by watching live telecast of the World Cup,” a Dum Dum jail official said.

The “boys” are more than happy to oblige. Some of the serious footballers are keeping note of the schedule, goals, results and turning points of matches. Among the football enthusiasts are murder accused Somnath Mistry and Laltu Sheikh, arrested in December 2010 for carrying fake money.

“A team comprising best footballers from six central jails would be playing in the North 24-Parganas district championship, starting this July,” said additional director general (prisons) Sharma. “We decided to let them play after noticing their passion for the game.”

The “beautiful game” has not touched the hardcore prisoners, though. “Maoists Sachin Ghoshal and Telugu Deepak don’t watch World Cup matches. They remain glued to their books,” said a jail official at Alipore. “Aftab Ansari (convicted don) is not a football faithful either.”

TV is not available in cells for solitary confinement.