'No armed guards in MP prisons, blame 120-year-old manual for SIMI jailbreak'

Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi | Updated on: 1 November 2016, 11:21 IST
Why was it so easy for SIMI undertrials to break out of Bhopal Central Jail?
SIMI jailbreak (Arya Sharma/Catch News)

How could as many as eight inmates escape from the most secure jail in Madhya Pradesh? The Bhopal Central Jail housed, till Sunday, a total of 29 alleged SIMI operatives [now 21]. There are some other 'high-profile' inmates, including alleged ISI agents and top CPI (Maoist) commanders.

The eight undertrials, apparently, were resisted by just two prison guards, one of whom they managed to kill. Three out of the eight men killed on Monday had escaped from another MP prison, in Khandwa, three years ago. Could it be that easy?

RS Vijayvargiya, who, till six months ago, was DIG (Law), Prisons, and has, for several decades, been a part of the prison administrative system, confirms the worst suspicions.

In an interview to Catch, he explains how a 120-year-old manual, which governs MP's prisons, has made it so easy to walk out of the state's jails. Excerpts:

How is it that eight high-profile inmates were able to escape from the most secure jail in Madhya Pradesh?

There could be several reasons for it - the jails are not modernised, they're understaffed, and there is not one armed guard in the entire jail premises.

Exactly how understaffed is the staff there and why are there no armed guards?

There are only about 175-200 unarmed guards to look over 3,000 inmates in the prison. The prison needs at least 100 more guards. Because the state government did not give us more guards; we used to loan two to three constables from other prisons.

The reason we have no armed guards is because we still operate under Prisons Act, 1894, which was conceived by the British more than 120 years ago. Various states have amended this Act and brought it up to date, but not Madhya Pradesh.

"The Prisons Act, 1894, doesn't allow armed guards inside the jail premises"

This act doesn't allow armed guards inside the jail premises, to avoid the possibility of inmates snatching their weapons and using it against them, except when there's a disturbance or revolt in the jail premises. But it's an outdated premise now. Everywhere else, where jails have been brought up date, you find at least half-a-dozen armed guards keeping a 24x7 vigil over the premises.

All that the guards inside are armed with are two feet batons. What can the poor guards do with just these batons?

Some people, based on the photographs of the encounter, have pointed out that the undertrials were found with belts and boots, which is something not allowed in our prisons. Is this a significant anomaly?

This is again because of the outdated prisons manual that we operate under. Forget belts, at the time of framing this Act, the inmates used to wear pyjamas. So, of course, there is no mention of belts in the Act. And, of course, in my opinion, they shouldn't be allowed. Inmates can use belts to kill themselves or to kill guards accompanying them.