The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt wakes up to strike-clog in jails

Dec. 4: Alarmed at yesterday’s violent backlash against the lawyers’ strike in the Asansol special jail, the government today began an exercise to deflate the ballooning prison population across the state.

Nearly 300 prisoners, all eligible for bail after serving the statutory 90-day period but still in prison because of the lawyers’ ceasework, assaulted jailer Swarup Mukherjee yesterday and threatened to go on a hunger strike. They demanded release before the end of the Ramazan month.

A day after, the situation is still tense in the special jail as officials were unable to shift or release any of the inmates. A worried jail superintendent R.K. Mondal met senior administrative and judicial officials.

“We will have to work out something so that the Muslim prisoners can attend the Id festival on parole. Efforts are also on to see if they can be released using the provision of personal release bonds,” said additional district magistrate of Asansol Ravi Inder Singh.

However, Gurudas Mukherjee, secretary of the Burdwan Bar Association, said issuing the bonds would not be possible as a lawyer has to stand guarantee. “No lawyer would be guarantor as the ceasework will continue till the government rolls back the court fee hike,” said Mukherjee.

A worried minister for jails and social welfare Biswanath Chowdhury, who took up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today, said: “The situation is alarming. All our 53 jails have become dangerously overcrowded, posing a grave problem for the administration.”

Chowdhury has asked inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar to find out if some of the inmates could be shifted from the overcrowded prisons to those less populated.

“We are helpless as the courts across Bengal have not been functioning since November 13. We have capacity to accommodate 19,666 prisoners and the number has already swelled to nearly 19,500,” Chowdhury said. He has convened an emergency meeting of the jail superintendents at Writers’ Buildings tomorrow.

According to prison sources, the Jailpaiguri jail is worst-affected by the lawyers’ agitation. The prison population there has doubled in the past few days. “Though the jail can, at best, accommodate 500 inmates, their number has already swelled to more than 1,000. They are resenting the humiliating conditions they are being subjected to,” said a senior jail official.

The prison directorate said the situation is also grim at the Berhampore Central Jail. There are 1,930 inmates in the jail with a capacity of less than 2,000.

“More than 120 prisoners have been packed into small and dingy cells there,” said a jail official.

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