The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Life in fetters is cushy for a fee
- Presidency jail convicts reveal lucrative racket in cellphones, rations

Life is easy and ‘paying’ for lifers and high-profile convicts like Aftab Ansari and Gabbar in Presidency jail. Cellphone, gas oven, music system, liquor, grub... everything comes for a fee at Presidency, referred to as “ek numbari jail” (‘Jail No. 1’, in Govindaspeak) by convicts. And this, as they say, is ‘inside’ information. For it comes from a couple of lifers, Abdul and Munna (both names changed), one serving his sentence and the other on parole, obtained after petitioning the Supreme Court. While Munna spoke to Metro at length, Abdul exchanged a few words in the visitor’s section.

There are currently about 1,500 prisoners, including under-trials and lifers, in Presidency jail, officials said. There are, apparently, two options for prisoners to lay their hands on a cellphone here. “There is optimal use, where one can enjoy access to the mobile phone at an hourly charge, ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 500, depending on the capacity of the user. Or there is permanent delivery of the phone, for which a prisoner has to pay Rs 3,000,’’ explained Munna.

Both the lifers confirmed that Gabbar had smuggled in the handset and kept several Sim cards and a charger with him. “He often shared the phone with Ansari,’’ added Munna. Both Munna and Abdul alleged that the warders have “several mobile phones in their quarters”. The ‘mobile’ money is routed through the warders guarding the cells, who, in turn, operate through the matrons, alleged the lifers. Officials said matrons are usually convicts or lifers who have completed more than seven years in jail and their duty is to monitor the work assigned to an under-trial.

Neither Ansari nor Gabbar has made it to the post of matron yet, but Munna and Abdul said they both wielded “enormous clout” with the warders and head-warders, whose palms the duo greased regularly. Munna and Abdul said the most sought-after position for lifers is the kitchen matron, popularly known as the barachoka. “It is the most paying post, with matrons siphoning off the ration. People queue up outside the jail from 7 in the morning to buy the ration smuggled out through the garbage trollies,’’ alleged Munna.

Inspector-general of police (prisons) Jaydeb Chakraborty, however, refuted the allegations. “We conduct surprise raids in jails to check corruption. I have personally visited Presidency jail several times and found everything all right,’’ he added.

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