The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Space crunch stench in jail deaths

Ahmedabad, Nov. 2: A hunger strike by prisoners against a thrashing and three deaths over the last 16 days have not improved the situation in Surat jail.

Though the strike was called off the day it started — Friday — the prisoners have demanded a judicial inquiry into the deaths.

Jail superintendent I.M. Shaikh, who denied the strike and yet persuaded the inmates to cancel it, blamed the lack of infrastructure for the deaths and the regular clashes in the prison.

He claimed the three who died were seriously ill. Vinod Ram Avtar, 35, facing a murder charge, died on October 17; Dinesh Jagat, who was shifted from Valsad jail, died five days later and Ashok Lala Kahar, 30, died on October 30.

They were shifted from ill-equipped smaller jails in Navsari and other districts after their condition deteriorated.

The deaths came to light after murder convict Raju, 32 , beat fellow inmate Ramesh Patel, 23, breaking his legs and arms. Patel had to be rushed to the Civil Hospital on Friday. The resultant protest was the hunger strike by “junior prisoners” against “senior prisoners (convicts)”, demanding better facilities.

According to Shaikh, overcrowding was to blame for the thrashing. Raju, the “monitor of a barrack”, and Patel came to blows over taking a bath first, he said.

The jail, which can hold only 260 prisoners, is now home to 1,126. At times, the number touches 1,400, Shaikh added.

Worse still, only 22 constables of the total strength of 47 are available to manage the 1,000-odd prisoners. The other posts have been vacant for long. “You can imagine our difficulty and also the plight of prisoners,’’ Shaikh said.

Former state jail minister Jaspal Singh had tried to improve the situation by building spacious new jails and relocating prisoners. But the former IPS officer’s reforms ended when chief minister Keshubhai Patel sacked him two years ago.

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