The administration in Dum Dum Central Correctional Home has collapsed at an exceptionally critical juncture, coinciding with a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic. For a second consecutive day, the jail was roiled on Sunday by a revolt of prisoners over the suspension of periodic meetings with visitors. The jail authorities cannot evade responsibility.

For was it not their responsibility to make the fresh rules of engagement clear to the inmates in view of the pandemic? In an oblique admission of the critical lapse, the West Bengal government has been compelled to replace the Additional Director-General of Correctional Homes. The situation escalated to the extent that authorities were caught with all defences down as they faced an attack on the women’s ward, attempted arson and manhandling of guards.

Sunday’s rampage followed Saturday’s convulsion, which led the ADG (Crime) to lead the counter-mobilisation; but alas to little or no effect. Jail property was set on fire, including and frightfully so an LPG cylinder, an inmate allegedly died in police firing and there was even an attempted escape by scaling the walls. Indeed, Dum Dum Central Correctional Home witnessed the burial of law and order ~ a cruel paradox if ever there was one.

Forty-eight hours after the mayhem, the fundamentals remain ever so fogbound ~ the number of prisoners who have reportedly fled and whether the police firing death is confirmed. There is still some confusion over whether a bullet or teargas shells were fired. Considering the gravity of the violence, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has been directed to probe the incident, and not the Barrackpore Commissionerate.

The massive police presence at the RG Kar Hospital complex on Saturday evening was testament to the enormity of the prisoners’ upsurge in a jail that is home to 3,000 inmates. The seizure of firearms and hammers from the cells is suggestive of a calibrated offensive which must beg the vital question ~ how could the prisoners have access to weapons inside the jail?

The fact of the matter must be that they do have access to forbidden items, notably the smartphone. Pretty obvious must be the near total absence of purportedly stringent security checks. It is a measure of the escalation that women guards were manhandled by male prisoners. The police and the paramilitary claimed to have taken two hours to bring the situation under control on Saturday.

Far from it. Sunday turned out to be worse. A drastic revamp of the jail administration ~ not merely at Dum Dum ~ is direly imperative. Alipore and Presidency jails are no less vulnerable to the frenzy of prisoners. Any investigation into the Dum Dum jail riot must be riveted to the provocation, whether bullets or teargas were fired, and the number of prisoners who are said to have escaped.

This investigation must also embrace an understanding of the psyche of individuals sequestered in overcrowded cells, and the steps, if any, that were taken by the administration to assuage fears. This isn’t just a law and order issue. Unless the situation is reviewed urgently and corrective steps taken, we should brace for more prison uprisings, and not just in Bengal.