THE MADHYA Pradesh government had been warned in 2014 by a retired jail official about the “vulnerable points, illogical security arrangements and deplorable condition of staff” at Bhopal Central Jail, from where eight activists of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) escaped on Monday and were later killed in an encounter.
Former Madhya Pradesh IG (Prisons), G K Agarwal, told The Indian Express that he had written the letter to the then state chief secretary, Anthony Desa, on June 26, 2014, and marked copies to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Intelligence Bureau.
But nothing came of the warning, said Agarwal, even though he had sent the letter a few months after the jailbreak in Khandwa in late 2013 when six SIMI activists had escaped.
Agarwal said that he had also sought a meeting with authorities to offer suggestions on how to prevent such incidents from occurring in Bhopal or other jails, but got no response.
In the letter, Agarwal wrote: “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.’’
Agarwal said that the letter had been forward to the jail administration at the time. When contacted, DG (Jail) Sanjay Chaudhary told The Indian Express that he was not aware of the letter.
“Given my experience, I thought it was my moral duty to apprise those in power about the situation,’’ said Agarwal, who retired in 2000.
He declined to specify the “vulnerable points” mentioned in the letter, but said that “the way the jail was built, there are many”.
“After the Khandwa jailbreak, I realised how easy it would be for SIMI activists or other hardened criminals to escape, given the way the jail department functions,” said Agarwal.
The retired officer alleged that the jail administration was hampered by staff shortage, which was compounded by the posting of several guards at the residences of senior prison officials.
On Monday, police said that the SIMI activists escaped around 3 am from the Central Jail after killing a head constable by slitting his throat using spoons and steel plates, and tying up another guard before crossing a wall using a rope made of bedsheets. Several guards were on leave when the jail break occurred, said officials.
On Tuesday, police said that a dedicated unit had been formed to provide round-the-clock security at the barracks where SIMI undertrials and other hardened criminals were lodged. A senior officer told The Indian Express that some of these activists had tried to escape in the past, too, but that bid was foiled.
Agarwal had previously raised questions over the state’s handling of its jails after it suspended a jailer for releasing five SIMI activists as part of the BJP government’s amnesty scheme in 2011 for prisoners who had completed half their terms and whose conduct was certified as “good”.
The five had been serving their term in Khachrod sub-jail and were among 600 prisoners released across the state on January 26 that year. They were re-arrested after protests by Bajrang Dal and VHP workers.
The state government later amended the scheme, excluding those convicted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other serious crimes.
Agarwal had defended the jailer, who faced a departmental inquiry, and argued that he was suspended for implementing government orders while senior officers got away with transfers. The government later revoked the inquiry.