Lawlessness reigns inside high-security Tihar jail

Lawlessness reigns inside high-security Tihar jail

Lawlessness reigns inside high-security Tihar jail
The Tihar Jail complex in west Delhi has a capacity of 6,250 , but holds over 13,000 inmates. Seventeen of them were found dead this year--eight were murdered and seven died apparently of drug abuse.

The deaths again highlight the state of lawlessness in one of the high 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 inmates into ordinary members of society by providing them with useful skills, education and respect for 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. 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 involved in arranging the items for the inmates. Banned items are often thrown over the jail walls for inmates. In the latest incidents, 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 three days later.

Just before these incidents, 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 in 2014 and 35 in 2013, including those due to natural causes.The head warder was suspended after the May 14 deaths. Concerned over the increasing number of deaths, Delhi Home Minister Satyendra Jain summoned the jail authorities. 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. 

“The 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 the 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 approval to install full-body scanners worth Rs 1 crore each outside all prisons in the Tihar complex.

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

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

Help has also been sought from the Delhi Police for quick detection of mobile phones through technical surveillance. Suspected mobile users in the jail are also shifted frequently.

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.

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 underhand 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 the 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.

“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,” the spokesperson says.

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