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SIMI jailbreak: Despite three warnings, security at Bhopal Central Jail remained poor

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Wednesday visited the Bhopal Central Jail, from where the eight Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) under-trials had escaped, to review the security situation there.

Four jail officials including the Superintendent had been suspended after the eight SIMI activists escaped.

 SIMI jailbreak: Despite three warnings, security at Bhopal Central Jail remained poor

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

Keeping in mind the fact that the eight SIMI activists had escaped after slitting the throat of a guard and scaling the wall using bedsheets between 2 and 3 am, it will take a lot more than the CM's visit to improve security in the Bhopal Central Jail.

In fact, the Madhya Pradesh government and the jail authorities had got at least three warning signs earlier that the security at the jail was poor.

First warning at the Collectors and SPs meeting

According to an official close to CM Chouhan, at the two-day Collectors and SPs meeting which ended on 27 October, the CM appeared to be worried over the absence of the jail authorities and had asked "where is the Prison Director General?"

To which the CM was told that the prison official had been operated upon and was unwell.

Thereafter, Chouhan had specifically told the Madhya Pradesh Jail Principal Secretary Vinod Semwal, who was present at the meeting, that "special thrust should be laid on the jail security," the official had told PTI.

MP Jail ADG's written direction

Earlier on 3 October, then MP Jail Additional Director General (ADG) Sushovan Banerjee had issued a written direction to Bhopal Central Jail Superintendent which had said that "security in Bhopal Jail should be tightened in letter and spirit in the wake of the disturbing developments in the country."

The direction also said that a high alert has been sounded in the country (in wake of the Uri terror attack) and hence security should be beefed up in the local Central Jail, according to PTI.

When contacted, Banerjee admitted that he had issued a written direction to the Bhopal Jail Superintendent.

Now, Banerjee has been attached to the police headquarters after Monday's incident.

Letter to state government by former MP IG (Prisons)

The Madhya Pradesh government had got a warning even before this one in 2014 when former MP IG (Prisons) GK Agrawal had written a letter to the then chief secretary Anthony Desa and marked copies to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Intelligence Bureau about the poor security in the jail.

The letter had come after the sensational escape by seven members of SIMI from a jail in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh in 2013.

"At present, SIMI activists from other prisons have been kept in the Bhopal Central Jail. But given the structure of the jail building, its vulnerable points, illogical security arrangement and deplorable condition of staff, it would be wrong to presume that everything is OK if no major incident takes place. God is helping but it would a mistake to presume that he will continue to offer help," The Indian Express had quoted Agrawal as saying in his letter.

Agrawal also said in the report that the jail administration had been suffering from staff shortage and several guards had been posted at the residences of senior police officials.

Another report in Hindustan Times said that five of the jail's 50 cameras were not working on Sunday night. The report also said that there were only two warders available to keep an eye on the prisoners and the first warder, who was on duty from 8 pm to 2 am, did not go to the block where the SIMI members were lodged. Moreover, no Special Armed Force (SAF) guard was able to locate the SIMI members from a 25-foot watch tower when they escaped from their block.

What is more disturbing is the possibility that the SIMI members may have got the help of some jail inmates or even some staff members for their escape.

"We will review security in all jails and find out the link behind the jail break incident. For obvious reasons, it is a common notion that the SIMI operatives could have never breached the security of Central Jail without any local help," The Times of India had quoted Chouhan as saying.

The Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission (MPHRC) will conduct a probe into the circumstances surrounding the jailbreak and the lapses that led to the escape of prisoners which also caused the death of a jail security guard.

It is not just Madhya Pradesh, though, where the security in jails needs to improve. Another report in The Indian Express said that according to the latest data on prisons by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015, there is a vacancy of 33 percent among prison guards and 36 percent among officers.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Nov 02, 2016 16:07:47 IST