The new prisons minister of Uttar Pradesh is no stranger to jails. Raghuraj Pratap Singh, better known as Raja Bhaiyya, has no qualms admitting it.
“This time last year I was in jail,” he told HT at the outset of the interview.
Since 2002, Singh has been in and out of six different jails– in under the BSP rule, out in the SP regime.
Though most of the charges slapped on him by the BSP government –kidnapping to Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) -- have fallen through, the 42-year old minister said the jail stints helped him understand the plight of the inmates and the staff.
His ministership, he felt, was a chance to remedy matters.
Soon after taking over the ministry on Tuesday, he ordered the drawing up of a list of inmates in the state’s 64 jails who are behind bars despite serving their term.
“Jails are full of people who don’t have money to pay the fine levied by courts along with a jail term,” the minister told HT. “We would like to involve voluntary organisations to help in this regard.”
“I would also ensure that inmates get proper meals and the basic facilities,” said the minister. Sometimes inmates die due to lack of timely medical treatment or proper winter clothes. “This needs to change.”
Asked if sports would be encouraged, the minister, who had set up a volleyball team in Bareilly jail, nodded in enthusiasm.
The money, he said, won’t be a problem. “I am told that R1,500 crore meant for jails was left unutilised last year.”
“The staff in Bareilly jail told me I was in the barrack that housed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru during the freedom movement,” he said. “It was a consolation, for I certainly am not a villain as painted by the BSP government.”