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The eight alleged SIMI terrorists who were killed by Madhya Pradesh Police on Monday hours after they had broken out of Bhopal Central Jail, had unlocked their cell, killed the lone guard on duty, and scaled a 30-foot wall.
There were obviously not enough eyes watching inmate movements at the jail. But looking purely at the state of security in prisons across the country, this is an incident that could have happened just about anywhere. According to the latest data on prisons, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015, there is a vacancy of 33% among prison guards, and 36% among officers.
The data show that prisons across the country are facing a severe staff crunch — with over 27,000 vacancies against the sanctioned strength of a little over 80,000. As many as 200 inmates escaped — both in jailbreaks and from custody while outside prison premises — across the country in 2015, the NCRB data show.
Madhya Pradesh, which witnessed a similar jailbreak by three alleged SIMI activists of the same group in 2013, has a vacancy of 28%. Among officers, the vacancy is 35%. Out of a sanctioned strength of 370 officers — which includes officers ranging from the rank of jailor to DG — 128 posts are vacant.
“Jail staff vacancies severely compromise jail security. Across the country, this has been problem. A variety of reasons, including administrative apathy, have contributed to mounting vacancies. That is why in Maharashtra, the government is now recruiting jail guards during police recruitment drives. We are going to soon tide over the problem. Other states, such as UP, are also doing similar things,” Maharashtra ADG (Prisons) B K Upadhyay, who has been closely associated with prison reforms throughout his career, said.
While Maharashtra, where 18 inmates escaped in 2015, may be pulling up its socks, several others are lagging far behind. Bihar and Jharkhand, perhaps, have the most poorly guarded jails. Both states have over 65% vacancy among officers, staff and jail guards. Bihar, along with Rajasthan, also has the highest vacancy among officers, at 71%.
Delhi, which boasts the most secure prison in the country, Tihar, is the third worst in terms of vacancy among staff — 47% overall. The state of affairs with regard to jail cadre staff, including prison guards, is worse, with a vacancy of 51%. This, when Delhi has some of the most overcrowded jails in the country, housing over 220 inmates for every 100 that it should be having.
Rajasthan and Punjab, with 41% vacancies each, follow. Both also figure in the list of states where most jail inmates have escaped. While 32 inmates escaped in Punjab in 2015, 18 escaped in Rajasthan.
UP, which has the highest number of prisoners and sanctioned strength of jail staff and officers, faces a vacancy of 33%. Vacancies among officers is worse — 52%.