The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panchayat leaders in jail privilege cry

Patna, Nov. 9: They have seen ministers and MLAs “languish” in jail in the lap of luxury. Now, panchayat leaders, riding on the wave of new-found power, want special treatment in prison.

Many of these local body leaders, facing trials for multiple criminal charges, have spent years in the dank and unhealthy ambience of a prison. However, the 2001 panchayat polls opened opportunities for them to demonstrate muscle and money power. Several undertrials were elected while still in jail.

“After the panchayat polls, the interference in jail administration by the panchayat-elected members has been a source of embarrassment for us. There is no provision in the jail manual to give the panchayat-elected members facing trial any special privilege,” said minister of state for jails Ashoke Chowdhary.

Law does not permit the state government to provide special facility to any undertrial. However, jail officials are forced to make special arrangements for VIP undertrials considering the security risks their detention in prison involve, jail officers said.

“Ever since they came to be known in the jail as mukhiaji or zilla parishad pradhanji, the ordinary jail inmates began to greet them with a namaste. They even attracted hangers-on and began to think of themselves as bare neta (big leader),” said a senior jail officer based in Sasaram.

Inquiries by the jail administration have revealed that the agitation in Chhapra jail was engineered by Mahesh Yadav, a zilla parishad member who had gathered a following after he got elected while serving his sentence. He was commanding special status inside the jail like ministers in Beur jail.

At least four “dons-turned-MLAs” are lodged in Patna Medical College Hospital where they enjoy considerable freedom.

Early this year, an agitation was organised by Akhilesh Singh, said to be a panchayat leader, in Nawada jail. According to Nawada jailer Sanjiv Kumar, Akhilesh was shifted out of the prison after the agitation was crushed.

“At present, panchayat leaders like him are lying low as we have made it clear that there is no provision in the jail manual to grant special facility to any leader,” Kumar said.

According to an estimate by the panchayat department, there are about 56 mukhias in prison, while the number of ward members and zilla parishad members may be double. The jail authorities are in the process of making a final head-count.

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