Ram Kumar (name changed) and his bashful fiancée (Padma) looked at each other fondly, whispering and breaking into the occasional smile, with only an inch-thick glass wall separating them.
A few days ago, when Padma (name changed) visited Kumar, the duo had to shout to make themselves heard in an ambience defined by clamour, dirt and stench. Ram, a robbery convict lodged at the Tihar Jail, on Wednesday was among the first inmates who were given the chance to avail the state-of-the-art visitor booths at Jail No. 1.
Union home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who undertook an impromptu tour across the jail on Wednesday to assess the quality and range of its facilities, gave the visitor booths a thumbs up. The administration is carrying out dry runs of the 27 “world-class” booths that would be inaugurated a week later.
A few feet away from Padma and Kumar, who stood inside a three-by-three feet enclosed cubicle, the scene inside the old visitor booths was different. At each of the booths, which are more than two dozen grilles, separated the inmates and his/her visitor/s who were shouting themselves hoarse amid a cramped, dark setting.
The new booths in contrast are well-lit, airy and spacious; each booth can accommodate at least three prisoners, an equal number of visitors on the other side, and they could see across the glass walls clearly. “The acoustics used in the new booths ensure there is no echo, so that there is no cacophony there,” said the jail’s director general (Prisons) B.K. Gupta.
The booths, built at a cost of about Rs 30 lakh, take care of the “security concerns” too, as a jail official put it. “The glass walls ensure that a prisoner and his/her visitor cannot harm each other and neither can they exchange any banned substance/article,” said the official.
Chidambaram, in his spotless white cotton shirt and veshti (garment for lower body), told the media he had been wanting to visit Tihar and this was his “first visit”.
The minister, who arrived at 9.30 am, spent around three hours inspecting the jail’s various facilities including the Drug De-addiction Centre (DAC), a crèche for children (aged below six) of female inmates, the manufacturing units, and even a meditation (Vipassana) centre.
Chidambaram, who had scanned within minutes a thick folder on the jail’s data, was dead serious during the rounds, expressing frustration at media teams following him.
He said he was “impressed with the jail’s facilities” and wondered why some of them, like DAC, cannot be replicated outside.