Money and power can buy you a special room, outside food, extra meetings hours and a “lot more”.
When news broke of former AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala having allegedly paid a Rs 2 crore bribe to jail officials in Bengaluru for better facilities, few in Tihar Central Jail in New Delhi, the largest prison complex in South Asia, would have been surprised. Most of them have heard the story of a rich businessman paying a bribe of Rs 5 crore to make make his stay in the jail comfortable.
But what they may find surprising is that while Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah ordered a probe into the report submitted by DIG (Prisons) D. Roopa that implicates senior officials, when the purported payment of a bribe by the businessman lodged in Tihar jail was brought to the notice of a top Delhi government functionary, the latter only “settled” the matter but did not act on it. The top cop in question was later handpicked for a key post by the Centre.
According to former Tihar jail law officer Sunil Gupta, bribery has always been a part of prison life. Despite stringent rules and safeguards, he said, prisoners manage to bribe or bully their way to better facilities. At times, corrupt officials use extortion to extract money from prisoners. “In fact when some people made the Rs 5 crore payment for this high profile prisoner, he is learnt to have rebuked them for ‘overspending’,” Gupta said.
In prisons, there are two categories of people who enjoy ‘special’ facilities – politicians and ‘dadas‘ (powerful mafia and moneyed people). While politicians enjoy special privileges due to their clout, the musclemen are able to run their writ because jail staff may be wary of them or want favours in the outside world.
A measure of security
The rich are willing to pay bribes to prison officials to continue enjoying the comforts of life even when imprisoned and as a measure of protection from harassment. The death of ‘biscuit king’ Rajan Pillai in the 1990s highlighted how dangerous India prisons can be. In addition, the number of deaths in judicial custody, including due to gang wars, fights between inmates and those dying under mysterious circumstances, have a bearing on inmates seeking a safe stay.
Facilities for prisoners
While several jails in India have different categories of prisoners, Tihar has done away with the measure, Gupta said. “This is because in 1985 we had got an amendment done whereby different classification of prisoners was done away with. In other jails across the country, the prisoners are classified as A, B, C, Special Class and Ordinary Class. Through the amendment, which abrogated the provision for different classes, we had made the entire Tihar jail uniform for all inmates by having just Ordinary Class category.”
Due to this, he said, special treatment for VIP prisoners like politicians is no longer possible legally. The courts can only tell the jail officials to provide prisoners with facilities as per Delhi Prison Rules 1988, which no longer allow for any special treatment.
Gupta said different treatment, if at all, can legally be given to an inmate only if they are studying, are sick or are in need of special security. “Then only can they be given some special privileges, which are provided in the rules. In such instances, the jail superintendent has the powers under the rules to provide them a special cell. The toilets are located away from these cells.”
“Then such prisoners are also provided two permitted meetings per week with their relatives or friends. In case the inmate is sick, they are also entitled to a special diet which includes eggs, butter and fruit. Legally, you cannot provide outside food,” he added.
What a bribe can get you
When bribes are paid, the range of facilities a prisoner can access increases manifold and most rules are violated, Gupta said.
“The biggest facility that the inmates bribe or force their way through, depending on whether they are using money or muscle power, is that they seek access to a separate room or cell fitted with a toilet/bathroom. This segregates you from the other inmates who are packed like sardines in the other overcrowded barracks,” he said.
“The other facility is that you can meet your relatives any number of times. And the third biggest facility which is extended to prisoners is that you can get food from home or hotels and in this non-vegetarian food also gets supplied to the prisoners, though it is not permitted under the jail rules. These are all illegal facilities which are not permitted by law.”
Tihar, he said, was still much better than most other jails due to the presence of an outside police force, Tamil Nadu Special Police, which provides the peripheral security and also guards the gates. This force has been deliberately deployed in Delhi to prevent collusion of jail staff with the inmates and restrict the entry of prohibited items inside the complex. However, as instances of various seizures indicate, prohibited substances still often find a way in.
In other states, the jails are directly under the control of the state police and administration and thus there is no stopping the flow of special facilities to those who seek it.
Tihar’s high-profile inmates
Tihar jail has had many high-profile prisoners in the past, most notably Sahara chief Subrata Roy, who was lodged in the jail for nearly six months and in the air-conditioned court complex in its premises for another year and a half. Politicians like Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, DMK chief Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, former telecom minister A. Raja, sacked Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman and Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi, former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and former Madhepura MP Pappu Yadav have also been imprisoned in Tihar.
Apart from housing top terrorists, it has also had high profile inmates like Congress leader Venod Sharma’s son Manu Sharma, who was convicted for the murder of model Jessica Lal, and UP politician D.P. Yadav’s son Vikas and nephew Vishal Yadav who were convicted in the Nitish Katara murder case. These inmates have often been accused of enjoying facilities beyond what’s permitted.