Corruption is the root cause of the ills that afflict the judicial process system in our beloved country.
The death of a murder convict in a fracas in the Byculla Women’s Jail, Mumbai, and the transfer of a senior IPS officer who revealed to the media the sordid happenings in Bengaluru’s Central Jail, have brought India’s jail administration into focus. That there is something radically amiss is what the public thinks. What the public thinks about how our jails are run is not radically different from what the public feels about the first cog in the judicial process system, which is the police. The public harbours the same thoughts about the second cog, the prosecuting agency, and even the third cog, the judiciary that adjudicates on the culpability of those brought before magistrates or judges for trial.
Corruption is the root cause of the ills that afflict the judicial process system, as it is in many other spheres of socio-economic and political life in our beloved country. Take the case of Mumbai’s Byculla Jail. The women prisoners lodged in that jail complained of not being supplied with the quantity of food mandated by rules. They accused the jailors of short-changing them to siphon the funds into their own pockets. A woman convicted for murder took the lead in arguing and protesting, leading to a scuffle that ended in the woman’s death.
In the Bengaluru case, D. Roopa, DIG of Prisons, visited the jail and found the AIADMK leader Sasikala being given unauthorised facilities, obviously in return for money. She first complained to her immediate superior, but when that did not result in any corrective measures, she ensured that the truth reached the media. The corruption manifested in both cases is par for the course in jails across the country.
A peculiar case came to my notice lately. A young man, whose parents have been my very dear friends, got into a business deal that landed him in jail, awaiting the outcome of the police investigation. He had to pay jailors for the use of a mattress and little more space on the floor of his cell. He also had to pay extra for substantial part of the dal that was dished out to the inmates; if he did not pay, he would have got only water.
The young man told me that he befriended many inmates who had been granted bail but could not produce the required sureties. He himself gave Rs 5,000 to one such unfortunate man for his release.
My young friend was later granted bail by the court on a surety of Rs 1 lakh. He produced the money. It was rejected! Many others I know of are set free on producing the specified amount in cash. His father’s Fixed Deposit receipts amounting to Rs 6 lakh were also rejected. He was told to produce proof of ownership of property. His father’s self-owned flat was offered and the documents produced. He was told that these had to be supported by a solvency certificate from the tehsildar. As that procedure would involve time and money, he finally agreed to a stranger’s offer to produce an individual who met the court’s requirement. The man was waiting outside the court ready to assist the “needy”. My young friend had to pay Rs 1.75 lakh in cash to the “property owner” to leave Arthur Road Jail 25 days after he was granted bail!
Institutionalised corruption ensures that our jails are always peopled with more inmates than the space can hold. Jail personnel complain of being under-staffed. Even worse, they are not scientifically selected or adequately trained. Dealing with convicts and men and women undertrials requires a different set of skills and attitudes, involving both mind and heart. Aggressive criminals may require the use of force at times. But most inmates are submissive and some are even mentally disturbed. Compassion is needed. But even if suitable men and women are chosen and trained for this specialised job, the entire exercise will turn to dust if corruption is not tackled.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has succeeded in keeping his colleagues in his Cabinet in check, but it is humanly impossible for him to discipline his ministers in the states and the veritable army of government “servants” whose idea of service contradicts the dictionary meaning of the word. The prison department’s minions can hardly be expected to become an oasis in a desert. A Modi will be required to head every government office in the country if we aim to become an advanced State.
(Julio Ribeiro, former IPS officer headed the Mumbai police in 1982-85. He held various top posts, including of DG, CRPF, DG, Punjab police and DG, Gujarat police. He was India’s ambassador to Romania 1989-93. He received the Padma Bhushan in 1987)