Uttarakhand: An open prison with fields and unfettered inmates vies for space and survival
Shivir is among the 28 open jails in India. Here, prisoners are allowed to move within the fields of the jail and can keep with them their families for a week in a month.india Updated: Jun 18, 2017 08:36 IST
Forty three-year-old Balbir Singh is a “reformed” man. Convicted for the dowry death of his wife, he has spent 18 years of his life in jail, 13 of which at Sampoornanand Shivir, an open-air prison in Uttarakhand’s Sitarganj.
Set amid lush green fields, the jail was established in 1960 over an area of 5,965 acres.
Sampoornanand, then chief minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh of which Uttarakhand was a part, promoted the concept.
Balbir attributes the transformation in him to the unfettered life in the shivir, which is among the 28 unique open jails of India.
“General jails are cramped, there is no individual space and inmates there are mostly depressed. Here we are already part of the mainstream,” he said.
But all is not well at this unique jail. Its area has now shrunk to just 640 acres as a vast swath of its agricultural land was given away to the Sate Infrastructure and Industrial Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited (SIIDCUL), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
The number of inmates, referred to as shivir wasis, too dwindled from 500 in 2000 to 44 in 2017. “We have urged the inspector general of jails to shift 50 prisoners from other jail to this camp so that the number of inmates is increased and we can have more hands for agricultural work”, superintendent of the shivir TD Joshi said.
Giving some respite to those who are striving to protect the unique concept, the Uttarakhand high court, Nainital, recently ordered that not an inch of the land belonging to the shivir should be given to any agency for any work other than building of hospital or school.
But inmates are not fully assured. Besides, there are many problems that still persist.
There is no doctor on the campus. The 15- day home leave to inmates was withdrawn by the government five years ago.
Inmates at the shivir live in huts on the fields and guard the crops at night. Sugarcane, wheat and rice are grown over around 200 acres of land by them.
The inmates are categorised as “pucca” and “kachcha” shivir wasis. The pucca shivir wasis live in the fields as they are “trustworthy.” They can, however, move only within the fields of the jail and not beyond the open boundary. They are allowed to keep with them their families for a week in a month and are provided daily quota of rations. They have to cook their own food. The kachcha shivir wasis are considered less trustworthy and are kept in unlocked barracks.