Birthday cakes, personal cooks, and a full-fledged gym to burn calories from meals tempered with dollops of desi ghee. Gangsters and militants had it all at Punjab’s maximum-security jail in Nabha.
The jail, which attracted instant scrutiny after gunmen freed a Sikh militant and five gangsters in a swift jailbreak that lasted barely 10 minutes early Sunday, let the high-profile prisoners live a king’s life behind the bars.
A jail official, who didn’t wish to be named, said prison staff took bribes to “overlook the lapses”, which include sumptuous meals.
“They hardly eat jail food in the mess hall. They hire fellow inmates as langari (cook) to prepare special dal and vegetables with desi ghee tadka. Higher officials were aware of this, but didn’t act,” he said.
Gurpreet Singh Sekhon, one of the fugitives, celebrated his birthday in the jail on November 22 with a cake brought from outside. Gurpreet and partner Kulpreet Singh later posted a birthday picture on Facebook.
An intelligence bureau confidential report says nearly 150 Facebook pictures of prisoners were posted from inside the jail.
The gangsters were operating Facebook from jail, brazenly claiming responsibility for murders committed barely hours before they updated their posts.
When Punjab gangster-turned-politician Jaswinder Singh alias Rocky was killed in Himachal Pradesh this April, imprisoned rival Vicky Gondar took to social media to claim responsibility.
On Sunday, before their accomplices arrived with automatics, the would-be fugitives were ready in jeans, sweaters and sports shoes.
“There was no rule for them. No one dared to act against gangsters. Even militants follow rules but not gangsters,” a source said. “Some of the cells are curtained off and guards can’t dare to sneak a peek.”
Prisoners have thrashed jail staff on several occasions in the past months, but these cases were swiftly swept under the carpet, the source said.
Mobile phones are banned in Indian jails, but the gadget is often smuggled in. Around 20 phones were recovered over the past five years in Nabha.
But collusion, cuts and fear are often blamed for jail authorities breaking rules in the prison manual and letting incarcerated criminals operate their evil world through mobile phones and internet.
“Collusion, connivance and corruption is confirmed. We are tracking mobile phones of every single jail staff member and their families. Whoever is found guilty would be punished. A team is investigating how the accused were getting privileged treatment in jail,” inspector general Paramraj Singh said.
In 2012, police found a gym equipped with modern fitness equipment inside the jail. It was set up by the Sikh Organisation for Prisoner Welfare, a pro-Khalistan group, with “permission” from then director general of police (jails) Shashi Kant.
Jail superintendent Gurpal Singh Saroya said as much when questioned during an inquiry.
The gym was removed. Prisoners now play volleyball to keep fit.