The Punjab government could learn a thing or two from the precision planning and execution of the daring escape of six prisoners, including a militant of the Khalistan Commando Force, from Nabha jail. The armed men who arrived at the jail to free their friends inside seemed to know exactly how many gates and guards they would have to cross to get to those waiting inside for them, and those inside knew exactly at what time, right down to the second, they should assemble at a particular spot inside the jail for their friends to come and get them. Clearly, the officials at the jail were more in awe of this assemblage of gangsters and militants than they were of the might of the Punjab government from which they draw their powers and salaries. As the plot unfolded, they put up no resistance, sounded no warning. The “facilitators” fired several rounds without injuring a single guard. In return, the guards fired some shots, but to quote the Punjab Director-General Of Police, this was “ineffective”. As in a Bollywood comedy, they also forgot to give chase. In the coming days and weeks, the Punjab government may well be seen trying to get to the bottom of this audacious jailbreak. Some heads may roll in addition to the ones that have already.
Unfortunately, however, there will be little from which to draw confidence that the management of jails and prisoners in the state will improve. Punjab’s prisoners have been notorious for the symbiotic arrangements between cops, jailers and jailed. Efforts by honest officials to clean up the system have gone nowhere. Prisoners inside have been using social media to keep in touch with “fans”, keep up the morale of their gang members outside, and to threaten rivals. Their access to mobile phones or drugs has never been a problem.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2015 alone there were 32 incidents of escape. There has been no dearth of plans to improve the jail system. In 2009, the Punjab High Court appointed a committee comprising a retired judge, a former IPS official who had served as DGP Prisons, and a former IAS official, to make recommendations to improve the state’s jails. The panel’s recommendations, addressing problems such as overcrowding, and poor maintenance of buildings, availability of phones and drugs to inmates, were accepted by the government. In 2013, the government asked the jails department to make a “master plan” for the state’s prisons, making an allocation of Rs 1.72 crore for the purpose. But there is little evidence that the master plan, if indeed one was implemented, has been effective. Coming on top of two big terrorist attacks, a spate of unsolved cases, including the desecration incidents, murders and murderous attacks, the Nabha jail break has only furthered the impression that had already gained ground: The Punjab police has lost its mojo.