Four walls do not make a prison, said the sage of Abhedashram in Thiruvananthapuram. Sasikala Natarajan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK, has demonstrated that a person with unlimited unaccounted cash can, without the mumbo-jumbo of any guru, convert an ordinary prison cell in a high security jail into a luxurious suite with a well appointed reception room to receive unending visitors and favour-seekers.
Just before taking up residence at the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison in Bengaluru to serve a four-year sentence for amassing wealth far beyond her known sources of income, Sasikala had converted two sea-facing luxury resorts south of Chennai into a high security jail to imprison more than 100 AIADMK MLAs for no fault of their own.
They were kept on leash till they cast their votes for her nominee, Edappadi Palaniswamy, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, in a trust vote in the State legislature. The cozy arrangement in the Bengaluru jail that lasted for a quarter of a year received a jolt when D Roopa, Karnataka DIG, Prisons, made a surprise visit of its premises.
What she saw shocked the State. Of the cells allotted to Sasikala unofficially, one had been turned into a lounge with LED TV and other paraphernalia. Another served as her bedroom. She had access to a refrigerator and other gadgets. Victualling was carried out by the Karnataka head of the AIADMK.
Sasikala was not the only pampered prisoner of Parappana Agrahara. IAS officer Gangaram Baderia, real estate conman Sachin Nayak and Abdul Karim Telgi of the fake stamp paper scam are in the list of VIP prisoners whose needs are catered to by the jail authorities.
Of the 25 prisoners Roopa tested for drug use, 18 showed positive for ganja which means there is a continuous supply of the drug in the prison and 72 per cent of the inmates are addicted to it.
For her pains, Roopa was relieved of her prison portfolio and sent out to mind the chaotic Bengaluru road traffic. It is her 26th transfer in 17 years of service in Karnataka police. She had charged the authorities of turning a blind eye to the rampant corruption in the department.
Now, her immediate boss in prisons administration, since transferred out of his job, has threatened her with a defamation suit. That is how the cookie crumbles in today’s India. While goings-on in the Parappana Agrahara prison have now come into the limelight, the story of prison administration in India is one of corruption and mismanagement.
High-profile and affluent prisoners find ways to extract facilities well beyond the scope of the jail manual, while those without means suffer abuse and inhuman treatment. A comprehensive overhaul is long overdue.