RUNAWAY CONVICT RAKES UP ROW 

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By BY BARUN GHOSH in Calcutta
  • Published 30.10.01
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Calcutta, Oct. 30 :    Calcutta, Oct. 30:  The escape of an elderly and ailing undertrial prisoner from R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital on Bijoya Dashami has triggered off a fresh row between the jail authorities and the health department over the upkeep of convicts undergoing treatment in government-run hospitals. Both minister for jails and social welfare Biswanath Chowdhury and health minister Surya Kanta Mishra are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting early next week. Though no official figures were readily available of prisoners escaping from hospitals, jail sources said on an average, at least five to six convicts, admitted for treatment, escape every year. The issue first snowballed into a major controversy early last year, when a UP-based gangster Manjeet Singh Mange, lodged in Presidency jail, escaped from SSKM Hospital, where he was admitted for treatment. Hours after the escape of Mange, a high-security prisoner, the jail authorities approached the health department for setting up a separate cell in city hospitals, but with no effect. The jail authorities, alarmed at the repetition of the incident, reiterated the demand on Tuesday for setting up of such medical cells in city hospitals, exclusively for treatment of prisoners. Health department officials, however, ruled out the demand, saying it was not feasible. "It's very difficult to open a cell in every city hospital for prisoners only, because there are so many wings. However, we may have to consider the issue if such a proposal comes from the jails," said state health secretary Asim Barman. Deputy inspector-general of prisons P.D. Mondal said during the day that jail wardens would find it difficult to keep a vigil on prisoners undergoing treatment in hospitals, unless they are kept in a separate enclosure. "If ailing prisoners are kept with other patients in a general ward, how is it possible for the prison security staff to guard them round-the-clock?" he asked. Such a cell for prisoners has already been functioning at Howrah General Hospital on an experimental basis, he pointed out. "Though we are unhappy at the way the medical cell is being run in the Howrah hospital, we want such segregated enclosures for prisoners in every city hospital. Such an arrangement will help beef up security for the prisoners," he added. Jail officials said one Ajaharullah Khan, 60, who was shifted to Dum Dum Central Jail on July 18 from the Barrackpore sub-divisional jail, was admitted to R.G. Kar Hospital on September 17 with kidney problems. He was bed-ridden and unable to move. But on Dashami, Khan walked out from the building under mysterious circumstances, with no wardens present on duty. "Though four wardens from the jail were listed to be on duty for 24 hours inside the hospital ward where Khan was kept, none of them was present when the incident took place," said senior jail official Anup Tripathi, who is probing the incident. He said all four wardens have been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.