That some of our political leaders have a knack for extracting more than what they are entitled to — even when they are in prison — is an old story. Keeping that tradition alive is West Bengal transport minister Madan Mitra, who is lodged in Alipore Jail in Kolkata after being arrested by the CBI on December 12 in the Saradha chit fund scam case. According to a news report, Mitra was found drunk by the jail authorities during a health check-up. A further probe found that the “drinking water” that was coming from the Trinamool Congress leader’s home contained alcohol. While jail manuals say that all prisoners should be treated equally, prisoners also have the right to apply for a different status on the basis of their social standing and economic profile before being incarcerated and then it is up to the courts to grant permission. Even going by this ‘class-conscious’ rule, Mitra’s conduct is, to say the least, indefensible.
Mitra, however, is not the first or only one bending/breaking rules or squeezing the State dry financially to maintain them. For example, in 2009, officials in Delhi’s Tihar Jail recovered prohibited Internet data cards and pen drives from jails and the next year, authorities recovered nine cellphones and 11 SIM cards. Several counter-measures like mobile phone jammers and CCTV surveillance were installed after these incidents. Then, of course, there are those like Vikas Yadav and Vishal, who have been convicted in the Nitish Katara murder case. Their 200-odd hospital visits — Delhi High Court called the grounds of such visits flimsy — as well as the lengthy trial has cost the State close to `6 crore.
While it is understandable that some inmates may need medical facilities, etc there should be a ban on extra privileges, considering that a vast number of under-trials live in almost inhuman conditions in Indian jails. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, extortion and drug rackets, sexual harassment, electrocution and beatings are a few things that under-trials who have no clout like Mitra or Yadav have to bear. In such a scenario, the practice of allowing people like Mitra to live like royalty inside jails must be condemned and only in the “rarest of rare” cases should they be allowed certain privileges that come with their social standing.