The Punjab government on Wednesday decided to amend the Prison Act 1894 to strengthen security across the state’s prison and curb criminal acts by inmates through more stringent punishment for major offences like rioting, escape from prison, and other violations of prison discipline and rules.

A Bill to bring in the necessary changes will be introduced in the Budget Session of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, which is scheduled to get underway on 1 March.

This decision was taken by the state Council of Ministers at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The Council of Ministers approved a proposal mooted by the jails department to add new penal provisions in the said Act to strengthen security arrangements and prevent the use of mobile phones by the inmates besides checking incidents like rioting inside jails, assault on the jail staff, damage to the jail property, absconding, possession of drugs inside the jails etc.

Section 52-A(1) of the prison law would be amended with imprisonment not less than three years, which may extend up to seven years or with fine not exceeding Rs 50,000 or with both for offences against prison discipline. In case of non-payment of fine, the imprisonment may be further extended to one year and on second or subsequent conviction, will be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which will not be less than five years but which may extend up to 10 years and shall also be liable to a fine which may extend up to Rs five lakh.

The existing provision provided for a maximum of one year imprisonment and fine exceeding rupees twenty- five thousand or both. Despite various security arrangements in the jails of the state, there have been cases of use of mobile phones by the inmates in recent times, as well as rioting inside the jails, incidents of assault on jail staff, damage to jail property, fugitive incidents.

Incidents of drug trafficking are also coming to light from time to time, which is creating difficulties for the jail administration and the law and order situation in the state.

The Prisons (Punjab Amendment) Act 2013 made some amendments to the Prisons Act, 1894 to prevent wireless communication devices in prisons, vide which a punishment not exceeding one year (bailable) with or without a fine of Rs 25,000 was imposed. But it was felt that this provision of punishment was proving insufficient to prevent such incidents and thus the existing provisions of the Act are being amended to make these more stringent to deter the inmates from committing such offences.