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Memories of Another day

Memories of Another day
While my Parents Pulin babu and Basanti devi were living

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preliminary Investigation Report on Jails in Jharkhand

Preliminary Investigation Report on Jails in Jharkhand

Taking note of the overall spate in the arrests of activists of various movements—such as the anti-displacement movements, movement for the rights to land, forests and forest wealth, labour rights, cultural rights, the Maoist movement—the civil rights activists from various regions had decided to organize a fact finding mission of jail visits to all the regions of the subcontinent. The civil rights groups had taken note of the readiness of the Government of the day to reduce all problems of the people of socio-political and economic significance to a question of law and order. This again has been taking place at a juncture when the Government of India had armed itself with such draconian laws that had allowed the various agencies of the state to be more arbitrary than ever while dealing with any kind of political dissent. Especially at a time when it is implementing aggressively the so-called third generation reforms which is nothing but the policies of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation.

The fact finding team to Jharkhand comprised of Prof. MK Hassan, Former Vice Chancellor, Ranchi University and also Coordinator of the present mission, Dr. Sashi Bhushan Pathak, General Secreatry, PUCL, Jharkhand, Mr. Prabhat Kumar Dehati, Former Minister, Jharkhand, Prof. A. Marx, Vice President, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Prof. Manas Joardar, Working President, Bandi Mukti Committee (BMC) West Bengal, Dr. Mithilesh, PUCL Jharkhand, Mr. Chhoton Das, General Secretary, BMC and also Secretary, Finance, (CRPP), Advocate Kesavan, Committee for the Protection of Civil Liberties, Tamil Nadu, Sugumaran, General Secretary, Forum for People's Rights (Pondicherry) and also Secretary, (CRPP), Mr. Rona Wilson, Secretary, Public Relations, (CRPP), Mr. Shiv Nandan, Executive Member, (CRPP), Mr. Mehtab Alam, Executive Member, (CRPP). The team visited the jails in the State of Jharkhand from 19 to 21 July 2008.

Advocate Prashant Jena, Orissa, Lateef Mohd. Khan, Gen. Secretary, CLMT, Hyderabad, Adv. A. Dasharatha, Adv. Balakrishna, AP, Adv. Ravindra, AP, Ms. Ratnamala, APCLC, AP, Adv. Kashinath and Sujato Bhadra, Vice-President, CRPP could not join the team due to last minute exigencies.

Initial reflections of the team:

The team visited the prisons of Latehar, Garwa, Daltonganj, Ranchi, and Giridih. On the 19th the teams had visited Giridih and Latehar. The team to Giridih comprised of Mr. Shiv Nandan, Mehtab Alam and Rona Wilson. The rest of the team members who arrived on the morning of 19th proceeded to Latehar, Garwa and Daltonganj. A. Marx, Sugumaran, Kesavan, Manas Joardar, Tapan Das, Sashi Bhushan Pathak and Prabhat Kumar Dehati comprised the team to the latter destination.

Giridih Team Detained: The team to Giridih had to face a hostile SP of police in Mr. Murari Lal Meena. The manner in which the team was received at the jail premises itself made it clear that the jail officials were aware of the visit of the team. But throughout his conversation the SP feigned ignorance of having received any communication about the visit and branded the team members as suspicious elements roaming around a high security prison. He even raised his suspicion that the PAN cards of the team members were forged! The officer was so prejudiced that at the outset itself he started branding the team members as supporters of the Maoists doing anti-national activities. He seized the mobiles of the team members and interrogated them on each and every call that they had made to different people. He arrogantly told the members that such ‘self-appointed human rights wallahs’ who are corrupt are a bane to this society. According to the version of the learned SP, the team members were found loitering in a highly suspicious manner near such a high security prison like Giridih and they can be booked! His other charge was that all such activities of such human rights groups are being funded by the Maoists, especially the PUCL of Jharkhand. He claimed that he had hard evidence with which he could arrest the team members and they would not get bail for a year! Further he ridiculously threatened that if any jail break happened in the next 2-3 months, the present team could be booked! The psychological intimidation and harassment continued for more than 4 hours. This team not only strongly condemns such high handed authoritarianism of the SP of Giridih Mr. Murari Lal Meena; it also maintains that he had broken the law by trespassing into the arena of the system of justice which alone is in a position to grant or reject bail. Moreover, the whole detention for four years is illegal in nature and for which the arrogant SP could be booked according to the law of the land which he himself is supposed to peotect.

Delaying tactics by the Officials in Ranchi and Hazaribagh: The officials in Hazaribagh jail initially deliberately refused to let the team visit and only after a lot of persuasion could the members get the permission, and that too at a time when there was hardly an hour left for the prison to be closed. It was impossible for the team to visit such a huge prison within such a short period of time. The authorities flatly refused to let the team meet all the prisoners especially the Maoist prisoners. They even refused to provide the exact number of the political prisoners in the Hazaribagh prison.

In Ranchi, the team there could not enter till the SP came as the other officials were not ready to give permission. But by the time the team got permission it was late as the scheduled departure of the team from Ranchi to their respective home towns in other states was at 3 pm. So the team could see the prison with 4000 inmates only for 20 minutes. We condemn such tendencies of the prison officials as such attitudes will never help the improvement of the system of jail administration or the overall well being of the prisoners. If the state really wants to bring about reforms within jails—which they prefer to call ‘correctional homes’ and thus change the attitude of the prisoners before they leave the prisons after serving sentence, then such arbitrary, authoritarian attitudes should be altogether removed. One should not expect prisoners to change unless the powers-that-be remained the fascistic in nature.

Successful trip to Latehar, Garwa and Daltonganj: The team could finish the jail visit to Latehar on the 19th. The attitude of the SP and the officials of the prison are worth mentioning. The jail SP Mr. Ganesh Prasad Das and the medical officer Dr. SK Singh were very kind and cooperative to the prisoners. Particularly the Medical Officer who is a permanent appointee has been outstanding with whose efforts the death rate in the prison which was 2-3 per year due to diseases and lack of medical care have been brought to nil .

Some initial findings from all the prisons:

Overcrowded Prisons: All the prisons are crowded with inmates twice or thrice its permissible capacity except the newly-made Ranchi prison. Daltonganj jail at present accommodates 839 people in place of 391, Garwa prison 414 in place of 148 and Latehar 191 in place of 161. In the Hazaribagh prison there were 2767 inmates in place of 1330. In the Daltonganj prison, around 70-80 prisoners are locked in a small room.

No permanent Doctors/ virtual absence of medical facility: There were no permanent doctors for most of the prisons the team could visit. In Hazaribagh and Latehar, there was a permanent Medical officer. In Hazaribagh, apart from the MO there was a male doctor and a lady doctor to attend to the women’s wards that were 3 in number with a capacity for 33 inmates. None of these prisons had a nurse or even a pharmacist. Because of the efforts of the MOs of Latehar and Hazaribagh they could train a convict to be their assistant playing the role of the druggist. In Daltonganj, there is a ward with 20 beds without a doctor. There are no facilities to treat prisoners with contagious diseases. In Latehar, the prisoners with contagious diseases are kept in a separate room which does not even have a cot or bed. The Hazaribagh MO claimed that they had separate wards for TB patients and those infected with leprosy. But the team was not taken to these wards. This prison also had a hospital with 106 beds (which again the team could not visit), a small operation room and also reasonably sufficient medical supplies.
In the Hazaribagh prison, the MO gave statistics of having conducted operations of Hernia (4), Hydrocoel (36), cataract (12) ever since his appointment.
In the Garwa prison, Mr. Choton Dubey, who was having heart and lung disease, used to vomit blood—was taken to the local RIMS hospital and was referred to Delhi. But till date he has not been taken to Delhi.
There is Mr. Nizamuddin with scabies all over the body. There were 3 prisoners having mental disorder in Daltonganj, and Garwa had one prisoner with mental disorder.
In many of the prisons there are no provisions to treat inmates suffering from contagious diseases.
In Hazaribagh prison, the MO reported that there was a case of HIV positive prisoner who was given bail. In the Garwa prison there was a prisoner who claimed that he was HIV positive and being neglected by the prison authorities. But the authorities maintained that the claim by the prisoner was wrong.

No Women’s ward: Like in any other prison in the Indian subcontinent the prisons of Latehar, Garwa and Daltonganj lacked separate wards for women. In many cases they were crammed into small cubicles. In the Hazaribagh prison, the authorities claimed that there is a separate women’s block with 3 wards having the capacity of 33 each and also crèche for the infants of the women prisoners. But the team was not allowed to visit the same. As women are not provided with separate wards, under the pretext of segregating them from men they are further confined in their crammed cubicles for a longer period of the day when they should be actually moving outside.

No Juvenile wards: In most of the prisons, there are hardly any juvenile wards. Hazaribagh prison has a juvenile ward with 40 capacity. Like the women prisoners the mobility of the juvenile prisoners is also restricted under the garb of protecting them from sexual abuse by other adult prisoners.

More Under-Trials than convicted prisoners: In all the prisons apart from the feature of overcrowding, the strength of UTs far outnumbered the convicts. None of the prison officials was ready to share the details of the number of years each under-trial prisoner has been in the prison. Another important aspect that should be immediately considered is the engaging of Under-Trial prisoners to do hard physical labour. The possibility of these prisoners being exploited as labourers in the house holds of the officials cannot be ruled out.

Underpaid labour: In all the prisons, the prisoners who were undergoing hard labour are paid a paltry sum of Rs.16/- while those doing what the prison officials categorize as medium labour are paid Rs. 14/- and still those who are doing what is told as light labour are paid Rs. 12/-. All these rates at the outset violate the law of minimum wages and tools for easy exploitation of the prisoner. When asked as to what the criteria of categorization into hard, medium and light labour were, there was no clear answer from the prison officials. The prisoners will not get access to the pay till they are released. The money is deposited in the Post Office Savings Bank account which will only be released to the prisoner once he/she is acquitted. Thus the labour that the prisoner performs will not provide any succour to his/her family till the prisoner sees the light.

Food and Hygiene: In most of the prisons the food that was served was far below the desirable quality. It was reported that the political prisoners (Maoist Prisoners) in Hazaribagh had sat on a hunger strike demanding the jail manual. But we were told that so far these prisoners were not provided with the manual on the flimsy pretext that it would compromise the jail security. The jail officials further gave the appalling statistics of a paltry Rs. 20/- for the provision of 3 meals a day. Apart from the usual provision of cooked vegetarian food, the prisoners were offered non-vegetarian food once in a week only between the months of November – February. The hygiene in the prisons of Jharkhand carries the usual tale of prison conditions in India. The drains overflowing with filth often become the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Since Jharkhand has a high rate of mosquito-borne diseases it becomes important for the authorities to look into the overall cleanliness of the prison premises. There is only a single crammed latrine in every ward of the prisons. The authorities in Hazaribagh claimed that the prisoners do their ablutions in the day time in provisions outside but how far it is implemented is for everyone to see.

Third degree torture on prisoners in Garwa: On the day of the team’s visit to Garwa prison (20th July) the inmates there had resorted to a hunger strike. In, fact, almost everything in that prison seemed to be in disarray. What shocked the team was the barbaric sight of two prisoners in handcuffs and chains wound around their ankles with bruises littered all over their body. The prisoners had to carry the chain as they moved. From their movements it was clear that they were brutally tortured. The three prisoners who were tortured are Rupesh Vishwakarma, Shyam Raj Sharma and Saurav Kumar. They were tortured by the DSP of the prison Satyendra Narayan Singh for their alleged bid to escape and later being apprehended in the premises itself with a pistol! The prisoners had injuries all over from head to toe, their nails were pulled out and needles were inserted into the space between nails and the skin. (Photos attached). The same DSP also had tortured another prisoner Mr. MD Alam who was arrested under fake currency charges.

The Plight of the Maoist Prisoners: Most of the political prisoners in Jharkhand are from the Maoist movement or having framed for alleged links with the same. In most of the prisons one could not get exact statistics of the Maoist prisoners. In Latehar prison alone, they were around 50. There were more than 100 prisoners of the same category in Daltonganj. In Hazaribagh, the prison officials after much questioning gave the figure of 100-150. The most striking thing about all these prisoners are the alarming number of cases lodged against them. In most of the cases, the prisoners themselves are not aware as to how many cases have been lodged against them. Add to this the abysmally slow trial procedures. There are several Maoist prisoners with hundreds of cases on them. Mr. Nathany Mistry, who is lodged in the Latehar prison, has 250 cases on him. Mr. Shyambehas Kanu has been languishing in the prison since October 2001, charged with 60 cases against him. Like wise, Mr. Kameshwar Baitha has a total of 240 charges filed against him by the UP, Bihar and Jharkhand governments. Those filed by the UP government could not be established in the court of law and stand quashed. Other cases, as is the practice everywhere, whether Maoist political activities are banned or not—to file innumerable cases against a Maoist suspect and to make him/her languish behind bars for an indefinite period as a victim of interminable legal proceedings. There are also such instances of a BJP supporter (Mr. Mantu Prasad) arrested and tortured and later implicated as an ‘extremist’. Another instance is that of Mr. Awadeshram Misra, an LIC agent. Sanjay Jadav, Suresh Bhuiya, Bhola Singh and many others have been similarly framed.

No facility for Conference with lawyers: In almost all the prisons, there is hardly any facility for the lawyer to meet and talk with the prisoner. The Mulakat is done with the family through the wire meshes that will separate the family from the prisoner by about 4 to 5 feet. One can hardly communicate anything in that commotion during the visiting hours when everyone will be shouting to make their word heard.

No library facility; no newspapers: In almost all the prisons there is hardly any library or reading room available for the prisoner. In many cases, there is hardly any provision for newspapers. Wherever there is a library, as is claimed in the Hazaribagh prison, it is not properly maintained. One is yet to know whether all the prisoners are allowed to use the library, and can get the kind of literature he/she would want to read.

No separate Jail manual for Jharkhand: The prisons in the state of Jharkhand still function with the Jail Manual jointly made for Bihar and Jharkhand. That the authorities are not at all serious about the prison conditions in Jharkhand is evident from their callous attitude to update the manual keeping in mind the specific conditions of Jharkhand.

‘Humanisation Drive’: The prison authorities claim that they have been conducting ‘humanisation drives’ inside the prisons. These include schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Literacy Mission, the so-called Art of Living and the last but not the least, yoga. In a supercharged atmosphere punctuated with lack of political will along with corrupt practices and abysmal non-performance as the underlying features, the meaningful success of any such welfare schemes becomes an empty claim. Nevertheless, we would invite the attention of the concerned authorities to look into our findings and immediately address some of the pressing problems.

Our Demands:

Immediately prepare a separate jail manual for Jharkhand keeping in mind the specific needs of the times thus removing all outdated regulations of the colonial times while trying to evolve a prison policy in consultation with the human rights groups, intellectuals who have been raising their concerns about prison and prison conditions. It should also keep in mind that many people have been charged with committing ‘political offences’. People charged under sections 121A/120B and other such sections which deal with the clauses of ‘waging war against the state’ or other ‘political offences’ should be treated as ‘political prisoners’ and separate acts should be enacted by the Jharkhand and state governments to accord the status of political prisoners to all these prisoners.
Immediately form separate wards for Women and Juvenile prisoners in all the prisons.
Stop the practice of forced labour of Under-Trial prisoners.
Provide proper medical facilities. Provide permanent doctors in all the prisons.
Provide separate wards for prisoners with contagious diseases. Give them adequate facilities for their cure.
Arrange payment as per the government norms of minimum wages for the labour of the prisoner.
Immediately suspend the DSP of Garwa Prison Mr. Satyendra Narayan Singh for the brutal torture that he has committed on the prisoners. Take proper action after an enquiry which comprises of civil rights groups and retired judges of repute.
Provide proper conference facility for the prisoners with their lawyers in all the prisons.
Stop the procedure of Mulakat through wire meshes. Allow the prison to meet whomsoever he/she wants at a proper room provided with chairs and other facilities.
Provide library facilities with all books and periodicals that the prisoners demand. All books provided by prison authorities, right groups/civil rights groups should also be included in the library. The library should be able to cater to the needs of the prisoner. News papers should also be provided without any censorship.
Ensure the speedy trial of all cases of the political prisoners including the Maoist prisoners. There should be an independent committee of retired judges, civil rights activists and intellectuals of repute who should study the nature of the cases filed against political prisoners as most of them are filed as an act of political vendetta so that these prisoners will never see the light of the day. This committee should unmask the reality behind the surfeit of cases piled against the political prisoners. All the political prisoners and their lawyers should be aware of the kind of charges filed against them.
We finally would thank the IG Prisons for cooperating with us. We once again would condemn in the strongest possible words the arbitrary and authoritarian nature of the Giridih SP Mr. Murarilal Meena. This was a clear case of illegal detention which is unconstitutional and punishable by law. In the interest of democracy, he should be brought to book.

Prof. MK Hassan Dated, 25 July 2008
Coordinator, Former Vice Chancellor,
Ranchi University.

The team-members:
Prof. Manas Joardar, West Bengal, Prof. A. Marx, Tamil Nadu, Advocate Kesavan Tamil Nadu, Sugumaran, Pondicherry, Tapan Das, West Bengal, Dr. Sashi Bhusahn Pathak, Jharkhand, Shiv Nandan, Jammu & Kashmir, Dr. Mithilesh, Jharkhand, Rona Wilson, New Delhi, Mahtab Alam New Delhi.

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