Kolkata: Four inmates were killed and 28 others remain hospitalised after two days of violence at West Bengal’s largest prison that was allegedly triggered by resentment over the restrictions imposed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around 60 police personnel were injured too, some with bullet injuries, during violence at the Dum Dum correctional facility between 21 and 23 March, sources in West Bengal Police told ThePrint.
The COVID-19 restrictions may have proved the immediate trigger, but police officers said the scale of violence suggested a conspiracy that had been in the works for some time at least.
The investigation so far, they claimed, had revealed that at least 200 gas cylinders were gathered from five prison kitchens — three operational and two emergency ones — by scaring jail workers. Police have also allegedly recovered a heavy cache of arms from prisoners.
Eleven of the cylinders were allegedly used as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and detonated through circuits on 21 March during the clash with police. The blast blew up a portion of the correctional home, including the office of the jail superintendent where the fire burnt down all the documents.
The violence went on for two days with nearly 1,000 security personnel struggling to bring the situation under control and prevent a jailbreak. At present, around 800 police personnel are deployed in and around the Dum Dum correctional home.
Although the jail has a capacity to accommodate around 3,000 prisoners, there were 3,900 inmates on the premises at the time of the incident, including 600 women. It has been alleged that the boundary wall of the women cells was also breached and the inmates attacked.
West Bengal Police have registered a total of four cases in connection with the violence, invoking charges of arson, attempt to murder, rioting, and stocking of arms.
State Minister for Correctional Administration Ujjwal Biswas said there was resentment among prisoners who were unable to file bail pleas amid the lockdown. He added that a committee, formed on the instructions of the Calcutta High Court, was looking into the reasons for the violence.
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Two days of violence
Three days after the main incident, a team of investigators is trying to join the dots to find out how the unprecedented episode unfolded. A senior police officer said they had recovered a “huge cache of firearms” from prisoners and raids were still underway.
“We have recovered a good number of improvised guns and cartridges, which were in the possession of jail inmates. There were sharp weapons that were used against the jail security staff and our men,” the officer added.
“The inmates also laid their hands on a storage of at least 200 cylinders… meant for the five kitchens, all of which have batteries of cylinders.
“They stocked all these cylinders at one place by intimidating or threatening the staff. They were using the cylinders as IEDs. Of these, at least 11 cylinders… were lined up near the main gate and the office of the jail superintendent,” the officer added.
The officer said it was “a major fire incident and could have triggered more such explosions”. “But the fire services somehow managed to douse the flame,” the officer added.
Minister Biswas told ThePrint that the administration was “trying to update the list of prisoners, the injured and the dead”.
“As of now, around 28 inmates are in hospital,” he said. “The jail has a capacity of around 3,000 and it was a bit overcrowded. The inmates were agitating as they were unable to move bail petitions,” he added. “The Calcutta High Court has given a direction today (Tuesday) and formed a committee. The committee will submit a report and we will act accordingly.”
“Most of the prisoners at Dum Dum jail are undertrials charged under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act and the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances ) Act,” the minister said. “The government cannot release such prisoners anyway, we have to wait for the court’s direction.”
Prison security found lacking
Unlike other central or state correctional homes, the Dum Dum jail, located near the Kolkata international airport, is hemmed in by residential areas.
The investigation so far is said to have revealed several lacunae in its security framework. According to police sources, investigators have flagged the fact that inmates had free access to the administrative block where the office of the jail superintendent is located.
The scale and magnitude of the jail violence is to be seen to be believed, said an officer of the correctional home.
“It was complete mayhem. The inmates started scaling walls when police deployed tear gas shells. There was heavy stone-pelting at security forces,” the officer added.
The jail is also said to be home to many Bangladeshis caught while trying to illegally cross the border and smuggle narcotics and fake currency notes, besides convicts and undertrials in important cases like the “accidental” Khagragarh blast that killed two suspected Indian Mujahideen members in 2014.
According to a senior police officer, the violence was plotted and planned long back. “They cannot gather such arms and ammunition without planning. We are also looking into the supply chain,” the officer said.
Barrackpore police commissioner Manoj Verma, who has been camping in the area for the last three days, said they were “looking into all aspects”. “The investigation is on,” he added.
Heads have already started rolling as director general of prisons Arun Gupta, who was on an extension for the last three years, has been transferred. Piyush Pandey has now been posted as additional director general for prisons. ThePrint called Pandey for a comment but he was unavailable.
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What else to expect from this state – one under socialistic governments for far longer? And later under the government that was building its physical strength to face the socialists ruling earlier.
These were well groomed and built by governments there so far. Period.
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