Lawlessness reigns inside jail

BEHIND BARS: eight murders, seven drug abuse deaths in Tihar just this year

The Tihar Jail complex in west Delhi has a capacity of 6,250 inmates, but holds over 13,000. Seventeen of them were found dead this year. They included eight who were murdered and seven who apparently died due to drug abuse.

The deaths again highlight the state of lawlessness in one of the maximum security prisons in the country and the largest jail complex in South Asia.

“The jail is styled as a correctional institution. Its main objective is to correct its inmates into ordinary members of the society by providing them with useful skills, education and respect for the society. But that’s only half the story,” says Zarine Khan, who works with an NGO involved in the counselling of jail inmates.

“Behind the high walls of the jail, illegal activities flourish and inmates have access to everything,” she adds.

The prisoners have used metal fan blades, spoons, stones, wire mesh, kitchen knives, shaving blades, sewing needles and even manhole covers in violent clashes.

Over the years, it has also been noticed that inmates have easy access to mobile phones, drugs, tobacco and cigarettes – all marked as ‘banned items’ in the jail manual.
And all that the jail authorities do is conduct raids and seize them.

Many jail officials are themselves involved in arranging the items for the inmates. Banned items are often thrown over the jail walls for inmates.

In the latest incidents of violence, an inmate was stabbed to death by three others in front of two sewadars on May 11, and two murder convicts were found dead under mysterious circumstances inside their cell on May 14.

Days before that, an inmate was killed by six others with blades and improvised forks and spoons. A  Nigerian prisoner was found dead under mysterious circumstances on March 27.

Statistics reveal that 36 deaths were reported from the jail in 2014 and 35 in 2013, including those due to natural causes.

The head warder of the jail was suspended after the May 14 deaths. Due to the spate of deaths, Delhi Delhi Home Minister Satyendra Jain also summoned the jail authorities and expressed concern over the security of inmates.

G Sudhakar, secretary to the minister, who has previously served as DIG (Prisons), was asked to head a committee to review security arrangement and submit a report.  
“Tihar authorities have been told that the government will not tolerate any negligence in the affairs of the jail. The growing incidents of violence indicate serious problems within the jail and these would be addressed without any delay,” a Delhi government official says.

The Delhi government has also expedited the completion of Mandoli Jail in east Delhi to ensure decongestion of Tihar Jail.

Overcrowding has been repeatedly cited as one of the main reasons behind the problems in the jail, along with shortage of equipment and manpower.

A report by the jail authorities reveals that about 30 per cent of the sanctioned posts for security staff are lying vacant – that’s a total of 2,186 vacancies.

They have also repeatedly highlighted the need to increase patrolling by Delhi Police outside the prison complex to reduce attempts to throw banned items inside.

Currently, handheld metal detectors, doorframe metal detectors and portable detectors are used to prevent smuggling of metallic objects into the jails.

 In a move that is likely to provide some relief, the jail authorities are waiting for approvals to install full-body scanners worth Rs 1 crore each outside all prisons in the Tihar complex.

Trials are underway and Mumbai-based Atomic Energy Regulatory Body (AERB) has completed the study on the radiation effects of the scanners.

“A total of 258 CCTV cameras also keep an eye on the inmates and another 233 are being installed. But these 491 cameras still would not cover the entire jail complex,” the report states. The jail authorities have asked for another 1,000 CCTV cameras and construction of more surveillance towers.

The Public Works Department has also been asked to replace the metal blades of exhaust fans with plastic blades as inmates improvise knives from them. Steel plates, forks and spoons will also be replaced with plastic utensils.

Phone menace
Help has also been sought from Delhi Police for quick detection of mobile phones through technical surveillance.

The mobile phones and SIM cards seized from inmates are sent to police for further investigation, which often unearths a cache of phone numbers belonging to criminals.
Suspected mobile users in the jail are also shifted frequently.

“Efforts are being made to unearth mobile phones in jails by organising regular surprise searches. To prevent the use of mobile phones by inmates from within the jails, 31 jammers have been installed,” jail spokesperson Mukesh Prasad tells Deccan Herald.
The jammers, however, do not cover all the areas inside the jail. Jammer wires have been found disconnected several times.

The authorities say they require about 80 jammers to block all usage of mobile phones.
Police say some dangerous criminals do business even while in prison. Over 60 mobile phones have been seized this year, while only nine, 12, 38 and 40 were recovered in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively.

Police are worried as these phones are mainly used for striking deals, planning crimes and coordinating with other gangsters rather than keeping in touch with families.
“Calls are usually made from spots known to lie outside the reach of the jammers,” says Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Sanjeev Kumar Yadav.

Police intercept calls on the basis of phone numbers recovered from phones used inside the jail and from phones seized from arrested accomplices of jailed criminals.
“Some calls are allowed on purpose for some time to reveal the larger conspiracy being hatched,” Yadav adds.

Inside operations
In recent months, police have caught at least four gang leaders carrying on their operations over phones. Like drugs and cigarettes, phones have also emerged to be part of the jail’s thriving underground economy.

They are rented out to prisoners for as little as Rs 100. According to Deputy Commissioner of Police (West) Pushpendra Kumar, the chances of smuggling prohibited items into the jail are the highest when an inmate goes out for a hearing or is taken for medical treatment.

Vehicles taking food, raw materials, building material for PWD and water tankers have also been found to be carrying banned articles.    

Lawlessness in the jail has resulted in the suspension of 15 jail officials in the last two months.

In contrast, the whole of last year saw only 15 suspensions.

Those suspended include three assistant superintendents, three head warders and six warders.

“Most of these officials were suspended after mobile phones, drugs and other prohibited items were recovered from the wards which were under their charge. Others were charged with dereliction of duty after an inmate was found dead inside his ward,” spokesperson Mukesh Prasad says.

Run by the Delhi Government’s Department of Delhi Prisons, the complex has nine central prisons, and is one of the two prison complexes in Delhi, along with a district prison at Rohini in outer Delhi.

The state government is awaiting the commission of Mandoli Jail in east Delhi, which has a capacity to hold about 4,000 inmates.

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