The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Upright cop shunted, jail inmates go on fast

Ahmedabad, Nov. 18: Most inmates of Sabarmati central jail went on an indefinite hungerstrike today to protest the sudden transfer of prison superintendent Sanjiv Bhatt.

The young, upright IPS officer fell foul of authorities after he objected to special public prosecutors handling the Godhra carnage case entering the jail premises with their vehicles.

The jail superintendent, who assumed his new responsibility only on September 8 this year, was transferred late last night. During his two-odd months in charge, Bhatt initiated major reforms that changed the inmates’ quality of life.

Prosecutors conducting the judicial hearing of the Godhra case and Prevention of Terrorism Act cases inside the jail premises had wanted security norms to be relaxed for them. But Bhatt threw the rule book at them, pointing out that no special privileges could be allowed and that their cars could not enter a high-security zone.

When the Prevention of Terrorism Act court sought his opinion on the matter, the superintendent said every vehicle entering the premises has to be checked. He said the jail manual did not permit cars to enter without being checked. Public prosecutors felt humiliated by this.

Sources say the disgruntled prosecutors, some of whom mouth BJP ideology, pressured the Gujarat government to transfer Bhatt. But home minister Amit Shah denies this, saying the superintendent’s was a routine transfer. As the IPS officer awaits his next posting, senior jailor A.B. Makwana has been appointed in Bhatt’s place.

Shah claimed that inmates had gone on strike demanding that Bhatt’s transfer order be withdrawn because they mistakenly believed he had been shifted on someone’s complaint. The misunderstanding had been cleared, the minister said.

But sources said some inmates refused to eat even after senior police officials tried to convince them that the transfer was “routine”. The prisoners want a court-appointed commission to be set up to look into the transfer.

A top police officer said Bhatt was trying to use inmates to pressure authorities to withdraw his transfer since he was keen to continue as jail superintendent.

During his two-month stint, Bhatt had become very popular among the 3,300-odd inmates, among whom are two Indian Institute of Management graduates, two doctors and seven advocates. The superintendent tapped their skills to turn things around at the jail. Bhatt used the help of the inmates to set up a legal aid cell with a transparent system of functioning in order to improve the inmates’ quality of life. An inmates’ committee was formed allowing prisoners to air their demands and grievances.

Bhatt also ensured that profits from the “jail industry” were used to improve conditions for inmates. The industry, which has a Rs 3 crore turnover, recently registered a 10 per cent growth.

Sources say the superintendent saw the writing on the wall on November 5 when a public prosecutor told him he would be in trouble for ordering that his vehicle be checked as it entered the jail.

Bhatt has paid the price for refusing to be a “yes” man, but the ones who will feel the pinch are the jail inmates. They are bound to miss the upright, innovative officer who turned things around for them in such a short while.

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