Whether it’s a terror attack, a train accident or a jailbreak, we never learn our lessons. No matter how serious security lapses can get, incidents continue to happen, people lose their lives and life moves on, waiting for another incident to occur.
The felicity with which the Nabha jailbreak in Punjab was executed on Sunday — about 10 gunmen disguised as policemen tricked their way into the high-security prison and escaped with a Khalistani militant group commander Harminder Singh Mintoo and five others — seems laughable. It’s no laughing matter, though.
Coming close on the heels of Bhopal jailbreak, where eight SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) operatives allegedly escaped from the high-security ISO-certified central jail and were killed in an encounter on 31 October, it’s actually pretty serious.
According to the latest Prison Statistics India (PSI) report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2015, 200 inmates, including militants, terrorists, dreaded gangsters and petty criminals managed to escape from high-security jails from six states in the calendar year.
“In wake of the recent jailbreak in Bhopal, this one at Nabha speaks of the pathetic security system in Indian jails. There’s a general air of complacency and callousness in every prison in India, including the high-security ones where terrorists and underworld operatives have been kept. Each and every movement should be monitored, but that’s missing. Prison officials are mollycoddling with the inmates, giving a safe passage to the latter in escaping from jails,” quipped former director general of police (UP), Prakash Singh.
The PSI report further highlights that there had been 83 jailbreak incidents in the country between 2011 and 2015, with the highest 28 jailbreaks in 2011, followed by 26 in 2015. In this five-year period, Rajasthan accounted for 41 out of the 83 jailbreaks, followed by 14 in Uttar Pradesh and 5 in Madhya Pradesh. Out of 836 incidents of clashes in jails, close to 60 percent or 501 of these incidents were reported from jails in Delhi alone.
A performance audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2013 stated that there were 91 incidents of prisoners escaping from jails during 2007-2012. The CAG had indicted the prison administration for its lackadaisical approach towards securing its jails. The audit report also pointed out the malfunctioning of wireless sets and CCTVs — meant for maintaining security in jails.
The recent Bhopal jailbreak revealed that CCTV cameras were not functioning when the SIMI operatives allegedly scaled the 28-ft perimeter wall and escaped. Prior to this, adopting an identical modus operandi in October 2013, six SIMI operatives, accused of murder, dacoity and communal violence, broke open the ventilator of their barrack in the high-security Khandwa jail in Madhya Pradesh, scaled the wall and escaped.
“For the last two decades, I have been advocating for police reforms in India, including prison reform. I have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bringing it to his notice that it was he who in 2014 had enunciated the concept of SMART police, but two years down the line, there is a sense of disappointment because the change has not happened. I’m not trying to find fault with the central government, because police is a state subject. The decline in quality policing and deteriorating conditions of prisons has essentially been due to state political leadership,” added Singh, also former DGP, Border Security Force.
It was on 30 November 2014, while addressing DGP conference in Guwahati, that the prime minister came up with the concept of SMART police — police which would be strict and sensitive, modern and mobile, alert and accountable, reliable and responsible, and, tech-savvy and trained.
The political opponents in Punjab have launched a scathing attack on the state government after the jailbreak in Nabha.
“Law and order situation in the state has deteriorated to unprecedented levels under Badal regime, especially in the run-up to the Assembly polls. The jailbreak has triggered fears of revival of terrorism ahead of the polls in Punjab. The shocking brazenness with which the armed gangsters freed the dreaded Khalistani terrorist along with other convicts by walking into the high security jail, clearly shows the complicity at the highest levels,” said former chief minister and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh.
However, not ruling out the possibility of revival of Pakistan-backed Khalistan movement in Punjab, the security experts are more concerned about the lack of security in prisons that is paving the way for militants and hardened criminals to escape.
“Why blame Pakistan? It’s doing what it’s expected of them. Pathankot and Gurdaspur attacks revealed Pakistan’s desperation to create disturbances in Punjab after Jammu and Kashmir. Though it isn’t easy at present to revive pro-Khalistan movement in the state, Pakistan will try to exploit the situation during Punjab election. But the immediate concern is the series of jailbreaks taking place in the country. It speaks of the lack of manpower, deteriorating infrastructure, not following standard operating procedures (SOPs) by jail staff and absolute apathy towards having a foolproof security in prisons. When will we learn a lesson?” questioned security analyst Anil Kamboj.
Here are the major jail breaks in two decades:
1995: 43 LTTE cadres escaped from Tipu Mahal inside Vellore Fort after digging a 153-ft long tunnel.
1998: 78 prisoners escaped from the Nizamabad jail, taking advantage of mob strength and official laxity.
2000: 15 prisoners escaped from the Mahendragarh district jail in Haryana.
2001: 270 inmates, including hardened criminals, escaped from Bhuj jail in Gujarat, taking advantage of the earthquake that had rocked the state.
2002: 8 prisoners, two of them serving life sentences, escaped from Betiah divisional jail in Bihar’s West Champaran district after scaling the prison wall.
2005: 137 inmates escaped from Jehanabad jail in Bihar after a Maoist attack on the town.
2013: 6 SIMI operatives, accused of murder, dacoity and communal violence lodged in Khandwa jail in MP and scaled the wall to escape.
2015: 2 under-trials in one of the most high security prisons of India — Tihar jail scaled the wall, dug a tunnel through the boundary wall and escaped.
2016: 8 SIMI operatives allegedly escaped from the high-security Bhopal Central jail and were later killed in an alleged encounter with police on the outskirts of the city.