Even as Maharashtra government readies to appoint a high-level panel to examine the feasibility of shifting central jails — including Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail — outside city limits, prison officials are unsure of getting possession of land for an alternative prison in the near future.
The proposal to shift jails came about after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted, at the legislative assembly session in Nagpur last week, the development of areas surrounding jails had been adversely affected because of the existing norm of banning renovation and new construction within 500 metres of jails.
The prison department has been allotted land at Mankhurd for a second central jail in the city, but acquisition is yet to take place.
According to sources in the prison department, the land promised currently belongs to the forest department and the process to acquire it is long and tedious. Prison department sources said the home ministry has moved a proposal for setting up the jail on the Mankhurd land.
However, as the proposal will require approval from various government departments, it will be nearly a year before any concrete work starts on the proposed jail, they said.
Currently, the only central jail in city limits is Arthur Road jail (Mumbai Central Prison). The inmate population is usually four times the actual capacity of 804 prisoners, said a senior prison department official, requesting anonymity.
He said the rising crime rate provided further reason for action to be taken at the earliest to increase the capacity.
“We are constructing new barracks in old jails across the state. But this cannot be done in Mumbai because of the space crunch in the existing jail,” he said.
Apart from overcrowding, there have been security issues with Arthur Road jail as many high-rises are coming up in the vicinity, making it an easy target.
Prison department sources said having a jail in the city is very important as shuttling inmates from courts to prisons such as Taloja in Navi Mumbai, Thane Central Prison or Kalyan Central Prison was not practical for two reasons.
Firstly, high-profile inmates have attempted to escape. Alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Afzal Usmani,an accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad blast, managed to escape from the sessions court in Kala Ghoda on September 20, 2013.
Secondly, the daily transportation to jails outside city puts a lot of pressure on the understaffed police department.