A jail-term would typically mean a life devoid of freedom and common luxuries and in accordance with the jail rules which are not only challenging but ensure that a prisoner's life is under constant watch. However, if you're a VIP prisoner in India, your stay in the jail might not be all that tough.
With recent reports suggesting that aide of the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the late Jayalalitha — VK Sasikala — might be getting VIP treatment in the Bengaluru jail, it is interesting to look into controversies surrounding special treatment given to a few powerful prisoners (Sasikala included) who have served as inmates in various jails across the country.
According to an RTI query seeking details of the report compiled by an inquiry committee that looked into allegations of special treatment (made by then DIG (Prisons) D Roopa in July 2017), Sasikala, who is serving imprisonment in a disproportionate assets case, was given preferential treatment and a separate kitchen functioned for her at the Parappana Agrahara Central Jail in Bengaluru. Sasikala was convicted to four years four years in jail in 2017.
The 295-page report filed by retired IAS officer Vinay Kumar confirmed Roopa’s claims about the ousted AIADMK leader being given special treatment in the jail. The reply was furnished by MR Shobha, Public Relations Officer of the Home Department.
In her report submitted on 12 July to DGP (Prisons) HN Sathyanarayana Rao, Roopa had said there was “a talk” that Rs 2 crore had exchanged hands to give preferential treatment to Sasikala. The allegations were against Rao as well, but he had rejected them.
The report said that Sasikala was allowed to wear personal clothing and cook food for herself. A pressure cooker and spices were found in her prison cell to corroborate this claim. It also said that there was a separate visitors’ room for her and the corridor in the jail was barricaded for her. Sasikala was provided five cells, despite no threat to her life as per intelligence reports, the report said.
The inquiry committee report said Sasikala enjoyed free movement within the prison which was corroborated by video clips. One of the videos showed Sasikala and co-convict Elavarasi going out of the female barrack with a bag in hand, it said. The videos were submitted to the commission by Roopa along with other CCTV footage from inside the prison. The report also found that, as per the CCTV footage, Sasikala met with a person in a white shirt and white pants for over four hours on 11 June, 2017, while the maximum time that a prisoner can spend with a visitor is only 45 minutes.
Apparently, the records in the prison register were fudged to allow Sasikala to meet visitors for a longer duration. Serious "lapses" and "falsification of records" on the part of senior prison officials in extending this treatment have been revealed.
According to the report, while Sasikala was entitled to only one room, she was given five for private use after vacating the prisoners who lived in them. There was no professional evaluation of the threat perception to justify the claim that five cells and other facilities were provided on the grounds of security. She was also allocated a first-floor room, especially for visitors, the report said.
Sahara India Parivar chief Subrata Roy, who was imprisoned in Delhi's Tihar Jail in March 2014 for failing to refund Rs 20,000 crore to depositors and banks, paid Rs 31 lakh (later the amount was reported to be Rs 1.23 crore for a year) for special privileges for 57 days. These included an air-conditioned room, western-style toilet, mobile phone, Wi-Fi and video conferencing facilities. The bill to Roy’s company towards his stay came up to be about Rs 54,400 a day, as per a Business Standard report. Roy was also given security personnel.
According to journalist Sunetra Choudhury who writes in her book Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India's Most Famous, Roy enjoyed benefits that had "never been seen by anybody in prison before".
"Subrata Roy is the first person in the history of Tihar Jail to have comforts of air-conditioning," Choudhary notes in her book.
"...Because the court allowed Roy to use the video conference facilities (to hold meetings for raising capital to pay off the debt), it (his cell) had meeting and conference rooms.
"Even Indira Gandhi didn't have this comfort when she came to stay here," Choudhary claims in the book.
Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh — who was sent to the Tihar Jail for his alleged role in the cash-for-vote scam — reportedly, cited a chronic kidney problem and urinary tract infection to avoid the usual nature of a jail stay. Hence, instead of sharing space with other inmates in the barracks, Singh got a separate ward. According to several media reports, he was allowed home-cooked meals, mineral water and an attached western-style toilet. Two cellmates were also reportedly kept at his disposal for cleaning his ward four to five times a day with disinfectant and spraying insecticide inside it to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Lalu Prasad Yadav
Former Bihar chief minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav had access to many comforts when he spent three months at the Birsa Munda Central Jail in 2013 in connection with the multi-crore fodder scam. Unlike other inmates, Lalu was provided with a TV set in his prison room and even had two personal cooks, who served him the food of his choice. Lalu's jail menu included rice, fresh vegetables, mutton/chicken or fish, ghee, and seasonal fruits with the option of getting food from outside.
He also enjoyed longer visiting hours in comparison with regular inmates, an upper division cell and extra time to stroll within the premises after other prisoners had returned to their cells. Many politicians and bureaucrats often cite health reasons to escape the rigours of prison life and Lalu was among those who took advantage of the same.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim who has been sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for raping two minors 15 years ago (later, he was also convicted of a journalist's murder) and is locked up in Haryana’s Sunaria Jail also has been enjoying many perks inside the prison.
Rahul Jain, a co-inmate of Ram Rahim, told ANI that the attitude of jail authorities towards him is different as compared to other prisoners, as the self-styled godman enjoys more perks and is given special treatment.
“Authorities say that he is in the same jail, but no one has seen him there. No one is allowed to go wherever he is kept,” Jain told ANI, detailing how all other inmates are locked up whenever Ram Rahim is let out of his cell.
“Since he came, everyone is having a lot of problems. Earlier, we used to roam freely inside the campus. The food was also good. But all that changed. Our basic necessities like clothes and shoes also stopped coming in," Jain was quoted as saying.
Jain also informed that the inmates had also held a strike against the injustice, but it did not change the situation. He even rebuffed the reports about Ram Rahim working in the jail.
“Jail authorities say he works, but we don’t believe it. Since we have never seen him, he might or might not be working,” he said.
Ram Rahim's visitors are allowed to see him for two hours as opposed to the normal limit of 20 minutes for other prisoners' visitors.
Apart from providing him specially ordered food, the jail authorities also apparently cut out the portions from newspapers which castigate the jail administration for being lenient on the Dera chief.
Another self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, who was sent to jail after being convicted of rape, reportedly enjoyed VIP treatment inside the Jodhpur Central Jail. As per some media reports, Asaram demanded Ganges water for bathing. He also reportedly only ate the food cooked at the homes of jail officials.
The Supreme Court in December 2014, had asked him to undergo a medical test at AIIMS when he had asked for special treatment, stating that "there cannot be different criteria for different people".
Another common privilege provided to VIP inmates is of frequent paroles and grant of furloughs. Choudhury's book sheds light on the extent the rules have been bent for criminals like Sanjeev Nanda (BMW hit and run case), Vikas and Vishal Yadav (Nitish Katara murder), Anca Verma (wife of arms dealer Abhishek Verma) and Manu Sharma (Jessica Lal murder case) who were allowed frequent exits on parole and furlough for their "good behaviour".
Convicted of Jessica Lal's murder, Manu Sharma was lodged in Tihar Jail with life imprisonment. However, in 2009, he made a request for parole to visit his ailing mother but was instead spotted partying not long after he was out of the jail. Thereafter, his parole was cut short and he was sent back to the prison.
Similarly, Vikas Yadav, who was convicted of Nitish Katara's murder alongside his brother Vishal Yadav, was out on bail 66 times during the first two years itself of his incarceration. He spent most of his prison time in hospitals citing health issues and even managed to step out on a Diwali night with the help of two policemen who were later suspended.
Pune's Yerwada Jail authorities were also criticised for repeatedly letting off actor Sanjay Dutt on paroles during his five-year-stay in the prison for being tried for illegal possession of weapons in relation to the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case.
Recently, when fugitive businessman Vijaya Mallya complained to UK authorities about the condition of Indian jails while pleading in court against his extradition, Indian authorities reportedly submitted a video of cell number 12 of Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail showing how it contains an attached western-style toilet, six tube lights, three fans, a roof almost 15 feet high, white paint on the wall and a 40-inch LCD television along with opening into a courtyard.
Meanwhile, many other political leaders and ministers accused of corruption have enjoyed jail privileges previously. For instance, Suresh Kalmadi (CWG scam), Kanimozhi and A Raja (2G scam) enjoyed various comforts during their stay in Tihar. “They were given mineral water... and the quality of food was better since most of it was delivered from five-star hotels. They were assigned domestic help and had a television in their cells with 28 channels," claimed a report by Scroll.in.
However, it is not that all these discrepancies have gone totally unnoticed. The Supreme Court, while going over the case of Unitech bosses Sanja and Ajay Chandra, rapped the Tihar Jail authorities for the special treatment being meted out to the businessmen brothers. “A report by a judge says that Unitech officials are enjoying special facilities in Tihar. Is there a parallel system running in the jails? Do they have special rights in jail?” the bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur observed.
The report by an additional sessions judge had said that the Unitech bosses had sofas, TVs and phones inside the jail. The court had demanded an explanation from the Central Government on this score. The bench had also lamented the lack of staff in the jails which has given free rein to criminals and allowed for such a system to be created and thrive.
Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 08:18:14 IST