Even as top two officials of the Nabha Jail have lost their job over escape by six inmates, it will be a tough task for the prosecution to make a watertight case against all staffers, if put to trial for lapses or other charges, to be held guilty by a court of law, going by precedent in a similar case.
In the sensational Burail jailbreak case, wherein four inmates had escaped after digging a 94-foot tunnel in January 2004, a big embarrassment to the prosecution came when 14 people, including five jail officials, were acquitted by a local court 11 years after the incident.
After the audacious act of the inmates, the authorities then had blamed the jail staff for failing in their duties and thus facilitating the escape of the former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh’s assassins—Paramjeet Singh Bheora, Jagtar Singh Hawara and Jagtar Singh Tara — and Devi Singh, a murder convict in another case. The jail officials were also accused of having conspired with the escapees.
Just like the suspension of ADGP (jails) MK Tiwari and dismissal of two jail officials in the Nabha jailbreak case on Sunday, the UT administration and police had also taken prompt and strict action against the jail staff then.
The local police had booked 21 people, including the then jail superintendent DS Rana; deputy jail superintendents DS Sandhu and Ved Mittar Gill, assistant jail superintendent PS Rana, chakkar hawaldar Nishan Singh and warder Inder Singh.
The shocked administration invoked Article 311(2) of the Constitution of India to terminate the services of a few jail staffers. The constitutional provision allows the authorities to dismiss an employee without holding any inquiry.
“He has betrayed all responsibility placed upon him by law and rules. From the facts that have transpired, I conclude that there has been misconduct of such magnitude by VM Gill that the severest penalty permissible by law is called for,” noted the then adviser in one of his orders.
The trial in the court of chief judicial magistrate went on for over 11 years. In August last year, the CJM acquitted the 14 accused, saying that the prosecution has “miserably failed to prove a big conspiracy” involving all the accused .
Which way the verdict was headed was evident during the trial. The prosecution had roped in 50 witnesses to corroborate its claims but most turned hostile. Even three jail officials, including superintendent Amandeep Singh, went back on their statements. The police had seized a mobile phone but it couldn’t prove that it was in working condition at the time of escape.
“The tug-of-war between those inside as prisoners and those given duty to guard them was won by a big margin in favour of prisoners (sic),” the CJM had remarked in his scathing order.