THE head of the Jails Department told the Kerala high court last week that officials at the central prison at Kannur are scared of the prisoners lodged there. A large number of the prisoners belong to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI (M), which heads the Left Democratic Front government.
Responding to the official's explicit appeal, the court ordered that the political prisoners be shifted to the central jail at Viyyur.
Kannur is a CPI (M) stronghold. The party's domination over some villages of the district is so complete that they remain out of bounds for other political outfits. During the past three decades, CPI (M) activists have clashed frequently with workers of other organisations, notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
There has been a lull in political violence in the district in recent years. However, the public still remember with a sense of shock some atrocities perpetrated by political hit gangs earlier. These include the cold-blooded murder of a leader of the pro-CPI (M) Students Federation of India in front of the members of his family and the hacking of a schoolteacher belonging to the RSS in front of his pupils.
The Kannur prison has about 1,500 inmates. They include several hundred convicts serving jail terms in connection with political killings. Prisoners belonging to rival groups have clashed in the jail premises on several occasions. A CPI (M) worker was killed in a clash in 2003. Following the incident, the State government shifted some prisoners to Viyyur.
The United Democratic Front was in power at the time. CPI (M) legislators, led by Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who was then deputy leader of the Opposition, in a memorandum, asked the government to send the prisoners back to Kannur so that they could be nearer home. Oommen Chandy, who was the Chief Minister at the time, conceded the request in keeping with his policy of accommodating the wishes of legislators to the extent possible. The State's jails are overcrowded.
The central prisons, located at Thiruvananthapuram, Viyyur and Kannur, together have a sanctioned capacity of 5,415 prisoners. A report of 2005 said there were 6,950 inmates at that time, not counting those on parole.
While the number of prisoners exceeds the sanctioned strength, the number of employees is far short of requirements. The Kannur jail has only 105 warders, and 45 of them are trainees.
According to media reports, after the LDF came to power and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan became the Home Minister, CPI (M) prisoners, numbering more than 320, took over effective control of the prison. With the help of the party's district leaders, they even erected a memorial inside the jail premises for their comrade who was killed by RSS men.
The reports also said that CPI (M) prisoners were able to get mobile phones, liquor, cigarettes and even their favourite dishes from outside. During a recent raid, the authorities seized some arms, 10 mobile phones and 23 mobile chargers from them.
Concerned over the reports, the CPI (M) State Committee directed the district leaders to intervene and ensure that the prisoners do not gang up and flouts the norms.
The high court decided to look into the affairs of this prison after it received a letter from an inmate stating that jail was under CPI (M) control. The letter said Marxist convicts attacked those belonging to other parties. It mentioned the names of some alleged assailants.
The district judge, whom the high court deputed to the jail, said conditions were worse than the inmate indicated in the letter. The prisoners were able to get even drugs.
The high court, noticing a factual inaccuracy in the statement furnished by the Jail Superintendent, regarding grant of parole, directed him to appear in person on October 10.
MGA Raman, Director General of Police (Prisons), also appeared in the court on that day. Raman told the judges that there had been problems in the Kannur jail after the return of the prisoners who were sent to Viyyur.
Although the government had given jail officers freedom to act according to the law, they were scared, he said. The Home Minister has said the government will take a decision on shifting of prisoners after studying the court order.
The Director General of Prosecutions has in a report to the government pointed out that Raman acted improperly in appearing before the court without being summoned and seeking a directive on transfer of prisoners without prior consultations. --Gulf Today, October 15, 2007.
UPDATE: On October 17, the State Cabinet decided to remove M. G. A. Raman from the post of Director General of Police (Prisons) and appoint him as Managing Director of Kerala Books and Publications Society, Kochi.