The media has gone to town with the ‘explosive’ allegations of DIG, Prisons, Roopa Moudgil. Well, there certainly isn’t anything ‘explosive’ about it. Before too much is read into the previous sentence, I hasten to add that as far as the prison is concerned, many media reports and many claims of the administration are often hyperbole. With this department, you can be sure that leaks are manufactured, sources are motivated, and allegations are brushed aside faster than you can hurl them. Having spent the prime of my life within the walls of the same prison, I often wonder how I managed to emerge with my sanity intact. To set the record ‘straight’ about the allegations, I would like to share some of my experiences. Before I do, I need to add that very little can be done to ‘straighten’ things out. To actually achieve changes, the prison department needs more than a hundred officers of the calibre and integrity of retired ADGP S.T. Ramesh in different designations within the department at the same time.
The issue of special food to Sasikala is no big deal. To be fair to the administration, most of the prisons offer privileges to a certain category of prisoners. It is definitely not an earth shaking revelation. And it has probably been in existence since the first stone was laid at Parappana Agrahara. If anything needs to be blamed, it is the system. Privileges that are offered to some prisoners are actually a convenient arrangement. It is a system of not stepping into the territory of others. The department does not, and will never offer rations in the scale laid down by the government. So, the prisoners are given a free hand to fend for themselves. What is meant to be provided, makes its way in the form of bribes to different levels of officials. Contractors are a beleaguered lot. It is a wonder if they actually make money out of supplies to the prison department. The high profile prisoners, read Sasikala, Abdul KarimTelgi, and countless others accused and convicted in economic scams, are permitted, unofficlly, to make ‘their own arrangements’.
However, it is impossible for the top levels of the administration to know of the goings on. A ball by ball commentary is just not possible. Monitoring the activities of all prisons round the clock is a feat that no one can accomplish given the available resources. So, what do we have here? High profile prisoners make arrangements for their food through ‘available resources’ (read other inmates) with a little palm greasing of the warders and jailors. In the case of Sasikala, it is highly unlikely that a separate kitchen functions. Though the DGP has gone on record to state that food was given separately to prevent chances of food poisoning; to me, it appears as a reactionary response. Such responses are stock responses used by the administration who are apprehensive that the information may be correct as they generally do not trust the juniors who run the prison administration. Rather than denying the allegations, only to be proven otherwise at a later stage, the administration offers such responses.
The only known instance of a special arrangement was when Abdul Karim Lal Telgi was permitted by the court and the medical authorities to receive a special diet because of his medical condition. He managed to take full advantage of the official sanction and brought in food of his choice. With a high profile prisoner as Sasikala, any extraordinary privileges are likely to leak to the media with exaggerated accounts and it does not actually require a DIG to expose the same. The DIG, in all probability would have found food articles, cooking vessels, and maybe an induction stove in the barracks. This would have prompted the allegations of special facilities. And this, as I said, is no big deal. All the cells in the quarantined section have the same facility. And to occupy the cells, inmates need to pay for everything except oxygen. The toughest jailors who instill fear among the prisoners in the barracks are the best friends of prisoners in the quarantine cells.
Special cooks? Ask prisoners from the north east who are jailed for petty offences about their stay in the prison, and chances are that they would talk about their cooking. Many prisoners are employed in the cells to cook for the VIP prisoners. This is not an ‘official’ allotment of duties as made out by the recent allegations, it is an arrangement made by the prisoners.
The role of the lower rung authorities? Looking the other way, with money in their pockets. The role of the seniors within the jail administration? Polishing a percentage of the collections. The role of the seniormost officer in the Prison Department (read IG Prisons)? Being wrongly briefed by the officers in charge of the jails.
The occasional report that reaches the administration gets bogged down with red tape. By the time an IPS officer gets the hang of the reality, he is either promoted or retires from service. This cycle continues, and will be the same forever. You can expect North Korea to turn into a democracy, but do not expect reforms in Parappana Agrahara. Officials will retire, prisoners will either get released or expire within the walls, but procedures, privileges and corruption will live on. Parappana Agrahara has seen many allegations, this is one more for the record.
(The writer was a prisoner who was convicted for 10 years and was released on completion of sentence)