THE MAHARASHTRA Prison department has ordered an internal administrative inquiry into the death of a 32-year-old convict in Nashik Central Jail on October 7. Asghar Mansoori is suspected to have died by suicide with a note wrapped in a plastic bag found in his abdomen during postmortem where he has named five prison officials alleging harassment by them.
Maharashtra Additional DGP (Prison and Correctional Services) Sunil Ramanand said he has directed Special Inspector General of Police (prisons), Chhering Dorje, to conduct the inquiry to find if there were any departmental lapses. “The police are probing into whether the incident amounts to a criminal offence, the internal inquiry is to look into lapses if any on part of the jail staff,” an official said. Dorje visited the prison on Thursday. An official said, “The probe will also look into whether there were any complaints made by the convict (Mansoori) or other inmates against any of the prison officials and whether there were any lacunae in handling them.”
Lack of much needed push for prison reforms
In 2017, the Maharashtra prison department came under severe scrutiny when a convict, Manjula Shetye, was allegedly fatally assaulted by six prison staffers at the Byculla women’s prison. While the six staffers were arrested and currently remain in custody facing trial on charges including murder, the much needed push for prison reform has not taken place. The state government had then on orders of the Bombay High Court formed a committee led by retired Justice S Radhakrishnan to recommend reforms. Many of its recommendations, including increased staff strength, reducing overcrowding to make jails more manageable, remain largely unimplemented.
At least five co-inmates have written to various authorities, including the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, seeking that an FIR under Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code be registered against the five prison officials named by Mansoori. The letters allegedly claimed that one of the officials named in the note was involved in illegal activities including arranging contraband like cellphones in prison, which Mansoori had come to know. The letters claim that he was being harassed with threats of a false case, was kept in a separate cell and was removed from his duty as a warder as “punishment”.
The inmates have also requested that their statements be recorded before a magistrate. The official said the five prison officials continue to remain on duty so far.
Meanwhile, Senior Police Inspector Suraj Bijli of Nasik Road police on Thursday said that statements of Mansoori’s father and brother were recorded. He said that an FIR is yet to be registered in the case with statements of inmates, family members, prison staffers being recorded so far. An Accidental Death Record (ADR) was filed by the police on October 7 since it was the case of an unnatural death. An inquiry by a judicial magistrate is also being conducted as per provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code since the death took place in a custodial institution.
Mansoori, who was convicted for a murder that took place in 2007, had spent over 13 years in jail serving a life imprisonment. His family had told The Indian Express that a few weeks ago on a call, Mansoori had mentioned about not wanting to live anymore but changed the topic when probed.
The statements say that he had never taken parole during his term and was in touch with his family members as they regularly visited him before the lockdown. During the lockdown, Mansoori was in touch with his family through video calls and the statements claim that he did not mention any complaints.
The statements recorded by the police state they were informed on October 7 about the suicide after which they went to Nashik from Mumbai. The family completed the final rites on October 9 and were summoned again the next day when the police informed them that a note wrapped in a plastic bag was found to have been swallowed by Mansoori. The two-page note written in Marathi was found in his abdomen during postmortem. The family informed the police that he could not read and write and sought to look into who wrote the letter for him. “The note mentions the names of five officials. There should be a probe into the contents of the note and further action should be taken against them,” Mansoori’s father, Mumtaz, said in his statement. Mumtaz said he sought for an FIR to be registered but the police told him that a probe is still on.
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