By Kunal Basu:
The escape and subsequent encounter of eight SIMI members who were undertrial prisoners at the Bhopal Central Jail this year has once again raised relevant questions about the safety in Indian jails. They were also accused of terror-related offences. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led political administration finds itself in yet another controversial dispute. It’s the first after the unearthing of the infamous Vyapam recruitment scam last year. This is a very serious breach of security protocol and raises certain important questions regarding the so-called ‘high’ security status of our current prison system.
It is not easy to escape from Bhopal Central Jail. It is difficult to accept that the jail which has ISO-9001:2015 certification awarded for outstanding security measures could have policemen who could be so lax in their duty. According to media reports, the jail is surrounded by 32 feet high wall, making it very difficult for someone to escape from the prison. Apart from this, the presence of security watchtowers and armed police guards should be enough to deter any potential escape from this high-security prison. Yet, the daring escape of these prison inmates raises some relevant questions on the so-called security status of the current jail system in India.
Firstly, it is common practice that every jail system, particularly maximum-security prisons like Bhopal Central Jail has operational CCTV cameras installed at every floor to monitor any kind of suspicious activity. However,an investigation by the Madhya Pradesh Police has revealed that they were switched off during the time of the incident. The CCTV cameras were not working when the prisoners escaped. In such a high-security prison where SIMI activists are under trial for grave charges of terrorism, such laxity in policing is unexpected and shocking.
Secondly, section 24 of The Prisons Act (1894) stipulates that every prisoner is to be searched for any prohibited article in his possession. Section 18 of the same Act similarly states that it is the responsibility of a jailer to take care of items which have been taken from the prisoners. Yet, the very fact that these SIMI escapees had crafted steel plates into weapons to kill a security guard, raises serious questions of the authorities in the jail. Furthermore, it is very difficult to know about the changing schedule of the guards in prisons.
Two questions arise in this regard. Why were these metal spoons and steel plates not taken away from the convicts after they were done with their meals? More importantly, how did they manage to escape from their cell?
As per media reports, the prisoners had mercilessly killed one of the guards by cutting his throat.
Thirdly, why did the police kill them in an encounter? The SIMI activists had escaped on October 31 between 2 am and 3 am. Madhya Pradesh police tracked down the escaped convicts in less than 12 hours and killed them. Things like these raise serious questions about both the institution of police and the jails in the country. Is this how undertrial prisoners are to be treated?
It is about time the judiciary takes strict actions against such incidents. As a lawyer, I advocate the fact that serial criminal offenders must be punished by the left hand of the law for the gravity of their offence. Our jails are made as a deterrent tool for incarcerating prisoners and hardcore convicts. Courts must investigate into such sensitive cases with care, irrespective of whether a closure report has been filed by the police under section 173 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or not.