Nearly 60 mobile phones seized from inmates in the past four months has rung alarm bells for the prison authorities here.
Inmates have been chatting with girlfriends, surfing the internet, posting messages on Facebook and doing videoconferences via Skype on mobile phone. A convict, who uses his handset as public call office (PCO), makes money by arranging calls for others.
"Reporter Saab, main jail cho bol riha wa…Aaj barrack 7 ch kaidi lad paye ne… ek jakhmi hoya…khabar bhej deo…nale eh vi likh deo ke khane di quality mari wa" (Reporter sir, I am calling you from the jail. Today, two inmates clashed in barrack 7, one of whom is injured seriously. Send a report and do mention in the story that the quality food in the prison is bad.)," is a typical call to journalists from inside the Patiala Central Jail.
On Tuesday, prison guards seized three mobile phones hidden a foot deep inside the earth outside barrack 7.
“We don't conceal the recoveries, so our number might appear more serious other jails," said jail superintendent Bhupinder Singh Virk. "I have launched an operation to clear the jail of drugs and mobile phones. We have seized nearly 60 handsets, and it's shocking that some have been kept for more than 18 months.”
They keep them on ceiling fans, under kitchen waste, inside cracks in wooden articles and walls, and everywhere you can't even imagine. Wrapped in plastic, some sets were found in lavatory flush tanks. "Mostly, inmates keep mobile phone to stay connected with family but now it's also a way to reach girlfriends and access social media," said Virk.
Earlier, there was no punishment if the handset was seized. Now an amendment in Section 52-A (1) of the Prisons Act of 1894, has allowed two-year jail for the crime, although no court has yet settled any case. "Once an inmate is punished, inmates will know and respect the rule," said Virk.
To prevent the running of criminal networks from prison, the jail department has banned outside eatables and mobile phones on the campus. In the high-security prison of Nabha, which also is in Patiala district, the police last year had seized many mobile phones and exposed militants using a full-size multi-gym.