Thursday, February 29, 2024

Unsavoury Shillong jail episode

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The status of jails in Meghalaya is highly unsatisfactory. Jailbreaks are common and hard core criminals walk away without much resistance from jail authorities. The daring jailbreak of Fullmoon Dhar and his cohorts allegedly in collusion with the jail staff is the stuff of legends. Earlier the Chairman of the Hyyniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) too had literally walked out of the Shillong jail without much ado. On June 26, the Chairman of the banned Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), Champion Sangma was badly assaulted by jail inmates. It is not yet known as to what triggered the attack but word has gone around that Champion repeatedly taunts the inmates and behaves arrogantly with them. At this rate a mutiny by the jail inmates at some point in time cannot be ruled out since it appears that the jail administration in general and that of Shillong jail in particular suffers from many infirmities.

What is interesting is the Government’s action of removing the Director General of Police in charge of Prisons, from the second post immediately after the unsavoury event. The incumbent is also the DGP in charge Civil Defence and Home Guards. There have been several untoward incidents inside the Shillong jail under the above DGP’s watch. That the Government has taken so long to appoint someone in his place after those unfortunate incidents just shows a complete lack of interest in strengthening jail administration. The infamous jailbreak of Fullmoon Dhar led to an enquiry commission demanded by civil society groups. The Commission took at least three years and extended its tenure repeatedly even as it was pushed to a situation where it enquired into matters far exceeding its brief. The report submitted by the Commission remains a state secret.

Without the political and administrative will to make public the Enquiry Report and to trace the weak links in the entire chain of command in the Shillong jail, how can the state ensure that its penitentiaries do the work they are supposed to do? After all, a jail is a place where through counselling and constant mentoring; the criminals are expected to change their behaviour for the better. This obviously is not happening at the Shillong jail. There are reports that the jail is a den of corruption where alcohol, food and even fire-arms are regularly smuggled into the jail for hardened criminals, without much difficulty. This is yet another loophole in policing! Government should show that it means business with the way it runs its jails!

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