Maharashtra may soon have its first modern prison at Mankhurd in central suburban Mumbai. The state government has recently allocated five-acres of plot in Mankhurd to the prisons department. The department is now mulling over making a modern jail as per international standards equipped with modern facilities. What will set it apart from other jails is that the facility will have cells to accommodate high-profile ‘VIP’ prisoners.
“Last year, the government in principle had agreed to provide the land in Mankhurd, the first plot was under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) and the another adjoining plot is where the Metro casting shed was erected. Now, we have managed to get a five-acre plot… while a part of it falls under CRZ, construction is permitted here,” said a senior official from the state home department.
After getting sanction, the prisons department has asked the High Court-appointed committee to suggest recommendations to make the Mankhurd facility a modern prison.
“Since the committee is looking at prisons reform, we are of the view that if we have to start a modern prison then why not at a new facility. We have asked the committee to make recommendations so that the same could be studied and implemented,” added the official.
The murder of inmate Manjula Shetye inside the Byculla prison in June, 2017 rekindled the debate of poor conditions in the state jails. A five-member jail reforms committee formed under the directive of the Bombay High Court is looking at various issues concerning jails. Overcrowding and measures to overcome it was the first issue dealt by the the committee.
“One of the main purposes of this facility is to house high-profile prisoners. They could be lodged in exclusive jails that are better managed and won’t cause any security concerns,” added the official
The over-crowded Arthur Road jail currently houses some of the VIP prisoners like former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, ex-media baron Peter Mukerjea and alleged 26/11 handler Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal. Peter’s wife Indrani is lodged at the Byculla jail, gangster Abu Salem is lodged at Taloja jail while internationally renowned contemporary artiste Chintan Upadhyay is lodged at the Thane jail.
Liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who is accused in the Rs 900 crore loan default case, is currently in the UK. His extradition plea is being heard in London’s Westminster Court. In his plea, Mallya has raised the ‘poor conditions’ of Indian prisons as one of the grounds challenging his extradition.
“We will take professional help in designing the facility. It will include deciding on the type of cells to house the prisoners, whether or not to have an open area like Yerwada jail in Pune,” added the source.
According to sources, the state government was going to apprise the Bombay High Court of the new facility in its next hearing.
Arthur Road and Byculla jails in Mumbai, along with Thane, Kalyan and Taloja jails, have been facing problems or overcrowding. 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 prisons, 31,417 prisoners have been lodged as against the actual capacity of 23,942.
In 2016, the government sanctioned building an additional jail in Mumbai that would house ‘VIP’ prisoners.
According to sources, 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 the plan, the facility should be operational within a couple of years,” added the official.