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When Tihar's imposing walls could not stop Phoolan Devi's killer

The dramatic escape bid by first-time prisoners Javed and Faizan may have shaken the Tihar administration, but it was not the first time an inmate had attempted to flee India’s largest prison.

delhi Updated: Jul 01, 2015 10:42 IST
Prawesh Lama
Prawesh Lama
Hindustan Times
Charles-Sobhraj-the-serial-killer-who-targeted-Western-tourists-at-the-Tihar-jail-after-he-was-convicted-HT-File-Photo( )

The dramatic escape bid by first-time prisoners Javed and Faizan may have shaken the Tihar administration, but it was not the first time an inmate had attempted to flee India’s largest prison.

Sher Singh Rana, who was convicted for the murder of dacoit-turned-parliamentarian Phoolan Devi, and serial killer Charles Sobhraj were two other ‘high-profile’ prisoners who conned their way out of the high-security jail where even a desert cooler or a tree branch is a potential threat.

While Sobhraj, also known as the bikini killer because of links to two murders involving bikini-clad women, drugged his way out of prison in 1986, Rana walked out with his associate.

In the latest case while Faizan was nabbed, Javed is untraceable.

Preparing his report on Saturday’s dramatic escape, a jail official said he wasn’t in Tihar when Sobhraj or Rana escaped. But he calls them ‘just con men’ and that Saturday’s jailbreak was the first time anyone had ‘broken out’ of this 200-acre complex.

In 1986, Sobhraj mixed drugs in sweets he offered to prison guards, saying it was his birthday. When the guards at the main gate fell unconscious, Sobhraj took the keys fled with other prisoners. At least 60 other prisoners who saw the gates open refused to escape.

Rana, on the other hand, walked out of jail number 1 by getting his associate to pose as a UP police officer who had to take him to a court in Haridwar. An officer who was then in Tihar said that the details of the fake police officer were not noted. Rana was later arrested.

Tihar is guarded around the clock by around 2,500 security personnel -- six companies of the ITBP and CISF and one battalion of the Tamil State Nadu Police. But not a single day goes by when prisoners do not feign illness, attempt suicide or try to escape.

A few months ago, a prisoner was caught attempting to escape posing as a cooler mechanic. There have been instances of prisoners climbing trees in a bid to scale the 18-feet walls “Obviously, no prisoner wants to stay here forever. The PWD employees prune the trees regularly so that they do not reach the boundary walls,” the official said. After trees, the most common ‘preferred escape route’ is trucks that bring vegetables and other items to the store. Prisoners often try to escape this way but end up getting caught each time.

The authorities have decided to shift the storage facility outside.

“A TSP guard always accompanies the driver when any truck or vehicle brings in raw materials but despite that the prisoners manage to somehow hide in the vehicles. This will stop once the store is shifted outside,” another officer said.

On Saturday, Javed and Faizan managed to scale the walls by climbing on a mound of 3-4 feet high debris piled up against the wall. “There have been instances when prisoners have been found hiding in gutters near the gates. They hide below vegetables and wood by bribing the truck drivers. On one occasion, a prisoner had even hidden himself inside a large desert cooler,” said an officer.

On Tuesday when this correspondent visited the jail headquarters, the security at the gates had increased manifold. Inside, officials sat huddled wondering how the 18-year-olds managed to break out.