AFTER the state expressed its inability to allot land in Mankhurd for a new jail facility, the prisons department has sought permission to build the proposed jail on an 8-hectare plot located opposite the site that was suggested earlier. Overcrowding in prisons is currently being seen as one of the main challenges for the state’s prisons. According to a senior official from the state home department, earlier this year, the government had in-principle agreed to allot a plot in Mankhurd for the prison, but with a part of it being used for a Metro carshed and another portion falling under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), the land could not be reserved for the jail facility.
“We wrote to the revenue department to allot us the plot, but subsequently learnt that it was being used as a metro carshed. Part of it also falls under CRZ, where construction activity is prohibited. We, therefore wrote to them to allot an eight-hectare plot on the opposite side of the site,” said a senior official.
The new plot too has a glitch. Of the 8 hectares, four are being used as a casting yard for the Metro project. However, the official added that once the plot was allotted to the prisons department, they would start work on the free 4 hectares and the rest of the land could be worked on after the Metro project was completed and the casting yard removed.
“The 8-hectare plot is ideal for the Mankhurd facility. While we are aware that half of it is being used as a casting yard, we have suggested to the state that once the land is reserved for us, we will start work on the available 4 hectares,” said the official.
The official added that the state had agreed to the proposal and they were now awaiting a formal communication from the revenue department.
Once built, the prison facility will ease overcrowding in Arthur Road and Byculla jails in Mumbai, besides the Thane, Kalyan and Taloja jails. All these prisons have a combined capacity of 4,035 prisoners as against the total prisoner population of 10,196. In Maharashtra , figures suggest that jails are 31.22 per cent above capacity. Till June 2017, in Maharashtra’s prisons, 31,417 prisoners were lodged as against the actual capacity of 23,942.
The murder of inmate, Manjula Shetye, inside the Byculla prison in June this year sparked a debate on the poor conditions inside state jails. A five-member jail reforms committee formed under the directive of the Bombay High Court is now looking at various issues concerning prisons, and overcrowding is the first issue it is dealing with.
Last year, the government sanctioned an additional jail in Mumbai that would house ‘VIP’ prisoners. However, the exact nature of the prison — whether it will be a central or district jail and the facilities that should be provided — will be studied once land for it has been transferred to the prisons department.
“We will take professional help in designing the facility. This would include deciding on the type of cells to house the inmates and whether or not the prison should have an open area, like Yerawada jail in Pune,” said the official.
According to sources, the Mankhurd prison might be operational within a few years. “We are aiming to complete the planning and construction activities within two to three years. If everything goes as per plan, the facility should be operational within a few years,” added the official.