Maharashtra has diluted the buffer zone norm around jails bringing constructions closer to them, raising a debate on security issues.
The home department headed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has approved 150 metres as the “no-development zone” radius around central jails in the state, bringing it down from 182 metres. The zone has been trimmed to 100 metres for district jails and 50 metres for open prisons. The 182-metre buffer zone cap was previously applicable to all the jails in the state.
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The state home department, following Fadnavis’s approval, issued a notification last week, official sources confirmed.
Dr Vijay Satbir Singh, Principal Secretary, Appeals and Security, Maharashtra government, said that the new norms were in sync with the Centre’s model jail manual.
Singh also said that the definition of the buffer zone was vague under the previous norms. The new norms clearly define these as “no-development zones”, he said.
There were allegations from official sources that norms had been diluted to facilitate constructions near Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail and Navi Mumbai’s Taloja Jail by influential builders. Both Arthur Road and Taloja jails are central jails.
The latest government notification is silent on a recommendation for grading the heights of constructions within half-a-km of jail premises, a recommendation made by a panel headed by former Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Amitabh Rajan in 2013.
Requesting anonymity, a senior government official said that Fadnavis’s predecessor Prithviraj Chavan, had accepted the panel’s recommendation but had not issued any formal order, apparently as the previous regime was under pressure from the builders’ lobby.
Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) Meeran Borwankar, told The Sunday Express that following the government’s latest notification, she had written to the Fadnavis government asking for grading of heights of constructions within 500-meter radius of jails.
Borwankar had earlier raised the red flag on mushrooming of high-rise projects close to Arthur Road prison.
“Some projects have sprung up within 24 metres of the jail,” she said, pointing to the security threat they pose. “I’ve sought an anti corruption bureau (ACB) probe on how these projects were permitted,” she said.
Singh, however, said his department had already approached the state urban development department, also headed by Fadnavis, on the issue of regulating the height of construction projects between 150 metres and 500 metres of the jail premises.
“We plan to incorporate their suggestions in the new jail manual,” he said. Speaking on allegations of corruption in issuing permission for constructions within the no-construction zone, he said the urban development department must look into the issue.
Sources further revealed that a builder, who is allegedly involved in a nationwide scam, has been pushing for relaxation of no-construction norms around jail premises.
The City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (CIDCO), which is the town planning agency for Navi Mumbai, too, had recently approached Fadnavis for easing no-construction norms around Taloja jail.
Maharashtra has around 50 jails, which include nine central prisons, and 30 district prisons.