Jaipur: Hundreds of inmates at the Jodhpur Central Jail are on a hunger strike for the third consecutive day Thursday, demanding their release on the grounds that they are vulnerable to the coronavirus infection in jail.
The inmates have cited crowded cells, poor sanitation and lack of proper medical facilities in support of their demand.
But even as the Jodhpur jail inmates are demanding their release, those in other jails in Rajasthan are busy making masks. They are likely to produce around 35,000 masks by Friday, according to police officials.
The allegations of poor conditions in Jodhpur jail came out through an audio clip that has gone viral. The clip was put out by the nephew of one of the inmates. Its authenticity could not be verified.
The nephew has also written to the state DGP and the jail authorities, claiming that 90 inmates are in a cell and that his uncle had fever and cough, symptoms of the coronavirus, but was still not being “sent for a medical checkup”.
He also claimed that jail staffers were entering the cells without sanitising, thus putting the inmates at risk. “Besides, new inmates are given blankets used by old inmates,” he has written. ThePrint has a copy of the letter.
Some other prisoners have written to the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde seeking parole, on the grounds that jails in Rajasthan were overcrowded and it was impossible to maintain social distancing as advocated by the Prime Minister. In the letter, a copy of which is with ThePrint, they have also cited the lack of facilities for prevention and protection from coronavirus.
The Jodhpur jail has around 1,370 prisoners including convicts and undertrials. Among them are many high-profile convicts such as self-styled godman Asaram Bapu who is serving a life term for rape and Congress leaders Mahipal Maderna and Malkhan Singh Vishnoi, jailed in the sensational Bhanwari Devi kidnapping and murder case. Asaram is among the striking prisoners.
‘Half of inmates have ended strike’
The jail authorities have been trying to see reason with the striking prisoners but they have refused to eat food.
DG (Jails) NRK Reddy told ThePrint that the jail administration has been trying to convince the prisoners that the decision to grant parole is not in their hands.
“Half the inmates have ended their strike and have begun eating,” he said.
Reddy added that a committee constituted according to the Supreme Court’s directives would take a call on possible parole for some of the prisoners. He said that the committee is likely to meet Friday.
Reddy, however, said that it was better for the inmates to stay in jail as they would have no means of transport to go to home. Many of them belong to poor families and would struggle to make ends meet due to the lockdown, he claimed.
“We have been providing them the best facilities. They get food and medical treatment as well,” the DG(jails) said. “The jail compound was cleaned every week even before the coronavirus fear had gripped the country. As a result, upper respiratory cases have nearly halved.”
According to him, new inmates who came in this month are kept in isolation in separate cells and not allowed to mix with the old prisoners.
Court have ordered the release of prisoners
On Monday, the Supreme Court had asked all states to set up committees to consider releasing prisoners on parole to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
A division bench headed by CJI S.A. Bobde had called on states to consider parole or bail for those who have been imprisoned for seven years or less or who have been facing trial in cases for which the jail term is of seven years or less.
The Rajasthan High Court too, while hearing a PIL by Parmeshwar Choudhary, had Monday directed the state government to take necessary steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s jails.
The court has asked the state government to consider shifting inmates to other jails from crowded ones. Besides, it also asked the state to release old, sick and petty criminals.
Prisoners making masks
While a section of prisoners in Jodhpur Central Jail have been striking, their counterparts in other central jails in the state have been making masks for themselves, prison staff and their families.
DG (Jails) NRK Reddy said that around 200 prisoners in seven out of eight central jails have been making masks for nearly a week. “We are hopeful of achieving the target of 35,000 masks by this Friday,” he said.
The masks are to be given to inmates, jail staff and their families. “After that we can supply to the police force and whoever the government asks us to on a no-cost-no-profit basis,” the DG (jails) said.
There were some hiccups initially like procuring cloth but the production of masks is now in full swing. “There are 20 prisoners who have been working on 15 machines to make an average of 500 masks per day,” Rajendra Kumar, Superintendent of Alwar Central Jail, said.
In Bikaner, 10 women prisoners have made 2,500 masks in just three days. After keeping 1,200 for the inmates and jail staff, the rest have been stocked for supply in hospitals.