The administration’s decision to ban tobacco in Madhya Pradesh jails, a consequence of the recent jailbreak by alleged SIMI operatives, has led to discontent among prisoners, with the severely addicted complaining of irregular bowel movements and depression.
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In the two weeks since the restrictions were imposed, several jails —- the latest being Vidisha jail on Monday —- have reported instances of prisoners refusing to eat until they were provided their quota of tobacco, cigarette or bidi.
While the ban has been partially relaxed to allow prisoners to have one bidi each in the morning and evening, those addicted to cigarettes and tobacco products want more.
“It has become a problem. Twenty to 30 per cent inmates are tobacco addicts. It is not their right, but they were allowed to have tobacco in the past. We tell them to take medicine. There must be some solution to their addiction,’’ said Ramesh Arya, superintendent of Indore central jail that currently accommodates 2,240 prisoners.
On Monday, several prisoners in Vidisha jail refused to have breakfast and lunch, claiming that their bowel movements had been affected since the ban, and demanding that they be given access to tobacco products. A four-member team from the district administration had to counsel them.
Similar incidents were reported from jails in Bhopal, Jabalpur and other places since December 9, when the jail administration prohibited relatives from carrying food and other items for prisoners when they met. The relatives used to take large quantities of tobacco, that the prisoners stocked.
Nearly 40 officials in-charge of jails in the state met in Bhopal on Friday. They brought the unrest to the notice of their seniors, with some seeking easing of the restrictions.
“There is unrest and discontent among prisoners, but we are counselling them and providing medical attention. I have personally visited some jails to speak with the prisoners in an attempt to dissuade them from addiction,’’ Additional DG (Jail) G R Meena told The Indian Express.
He said the discontent was initially very high but had subsided to some extent. The prisoners were being advised to take warm water and medicines. The ban on cigarettes and tobacco would not be relaxed, but prisoners were being allowed one bidi each in the morning and evening from the jail canteen, he added.
The ban on outside food was imposed when jail officials realised that contraband like marijuana and blades were being passed on by relatives. Contraband items found during surprise inspections in jails in the wake of the SIMI jailbreak were destroyed.
Meena said a survey was being done in all jails to ascertain the medical condition and prevalence of addiction among prisoners. In January, de-addiction and medical camps will be conducted in the four major jails in Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior.