A SINGLE bed, windows blocked by plyboard sheets, shredded matting on the floor and a single rod heater subject to availability of electricity — this is how political detainees at Srinagar’s MLA Hostel described the premises at which they are now being held.
The hostel was declared a sub-jail on November 13. On Sunday, 34 political detainees, who were in custody at Sher-e-Kashmir Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar since the revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, were moved there in cars with tinted windows.
They are being held in the old part of the hostel, which is “dilapidated, unclean and has barely any heating arrangement” even as temperatures are in single degrees, sources said. The lawns of the hostel, too, have been barricaded by tin sheets.
The new building of the hostel is being used to house corporators of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and panchs and sarpanchs elected last year.
Sources told The Indian Express that lack of proper heating, a bill of over Rs 3 crore for keeping the detainees at SKICC, and security concerns were the key reasons for moving them out after over 100 days.
“A different hotel was recommended first, but the police establishment raised security-related objections. So, the prisoners were moved to the MLA Hostel. Additionally, since SKICC is surrounded by water on three sides, sabotage could not be ruled out,” said a source, who did not wish to be identified.
Another source claimed that the detainees were “frisked repeatedly despite being moved from one prison to another”.
Earlier, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was moved to a government-owned bungalow in central Srinagar from the tourist hut at Chashme Shahi, on November 16. Former Chief minister Omar Abdullah continues to be held at Hari Niwas on Gupkar Road and his father and Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah remains detained in his house. Farooq has been charged under the Public Safety Act.
Shehryar Khanum, daughter of Naeem Akhtar, the 67-year-old senior PDP leader and former minister in the Mehbooba Mufti government, told The Indian Express that knowing the conditions of the hostel, she went to the venue to bring a change of clothes, an electric blanket and a flask to her father.
“Everyone knows the dilapidated nature of these buildings. No MLA has lived there in several years and only some staff used to be accommodated in that space. The electricity is erratic and we need at least the bare minimum to deal with the extreme cold Kashmir weather,” Khanum said.
Kashmir witnessed early snowfall this year and the harshest period of the long winter — the 40-day long “chillai kalan” — is yet to begin. Emphasising that there are many detainees whose families may not even know what is needed for those held in the old part of the hostel, she said: “They would presume that at least heating arrangement would be made, given that the establishment cited weather as the reason to move them.”