At the Taloja central prison, nothing moves without the knowledge of the jail staff.
But if you have the moolah, the guards – referred to as ‘babas’ inside the jail – can fetch you almost anything, from mobile phones to drugs and cigarette brands of your choice, say former prisoners.
“Not even a needle can be taken without the jail staff permitting it,” said Hasan Qureshi (name changed to protect identity), who spent three months inside Taloja prison for rioting.
Policemen keep strict vigil outside Taloja jail on Sunday.
Gangster Devendra Jagtap, alias JD, could not have smuggled a revolver inside the highsecurity zone of the prison and fired two rounds at gangster Abu Salem without help from the guards, Qureshi said. The inspection at Taloja is so rigorous that even a soap is cut into two to check whether anything is hidden inside, he added.
“When we return from court dates, the guards ask us to strip to our undergarments and make us jump so that we don’t smuggle anything in.
But if they are paid, the guards look the other way,” said Zahid Shaikh (name changed), who served a threemonth sentence along with Qureshi.
The smuggling of drugs, mobile phones and mattresses, the most popular items, is possible because of the babas (juniorlevel jail guards) and the escort staff (from the police’s local arms branch) who take prisoners to hearings.
“The escort staff look away when relatives hand over articles to prisoners during court visits,” Shaikh said. “The difference between the rich and the poor is amplified in prison. If you can pay the guards, you can lead a comfortable life,” Qureshi said.
The staff also alerts prisoners about surprise checks, the duo said. “The guards alert us an hour before and prisoners hide the smuggled goods near toilets or on fan blades,” Qureshi said.
Despite repeated attempts, Ramesh Kamble, superintendent of Taloja jail, and Vinod Lokhande, inspector general (prisons), did not respond.