It isn’t exactly “breaking news” to be informed that jails in West Bengal, or indeed anywhere else in India, are cesspools of corruption. So when the minister for correctional administration uses a hackneyed expression ~ “just the tip of the iceberg” ~ in response to the arrest of a doctor of Alipore Central Correctional Home, he obliquely admits to the government’s abysmal failure to cleanse the mess in the backyard of the jails. The matter ought to be of riveting concern, but so regretfully, it is far from it.

The focus gets merely deflected with the staging of dance-dramas by prisoners at social clubs. The reality is awesome, and jailhouse entertainment for the great and the good is of far lesser moment in the overall construct. The fact that an “iceberg” exists is cause for considerable alarm. As much as the inmates, it is the respective administrations that are direly in need of course correction.

Last Friday’s arrest of the Alipore jail doctor ~ who is said to have done a stint in the Army Medical Corps ~ would suggest that crime is almost institutionalised within the seemingly insurmountable walls of the prison. It is quite another story that prisoners have on occasion climbed up the walls, jumped into the adjacent canal, and then swum to safety… never to be tracked down.

The criminality spread beggars belief. The occasional seizure of mobile phones and other gadgets is virtually part of the furniture, masquerading as jail administration. The crime assumes a critical dimension altogether when a doctor, who has put in a decade’s service, is arrested for what has turned out to be a fairly regular supply of contraband to the prisoners.

It is hard not to wonder whether the practice would over time have become a “thriving operation” unless the physician was acting in cahoots with the jail administration, such as it is. Reports suggest that at the time of his arrest late on Friday night, Dr Amitava Chowdhury was trying to sneak in currency worth Rs 1.46 lakh, 35 cell phones, four litres of alcohol, and 2 kg of cannabis.

So mind-boggling a demand-and-supply chain was exposed when he was entering the jail on a regular visit with the consignment. The seizure of an estimated 600 to 700 cell phones every year is suggestive of a consistent demand of the inmates to ensure connectivity with the world, and the underworld.

It is the range of seizures from the doctor, most particularly his involvement, that has raised eyebrows of the administrative brass of Alipore and other jails. It is imperative, therefore, to effect a crackdown on what appears to be a well-entrenched network of which the doctor is but a conduit. If indeed the police had acted on a tip-off, it is pretty obvious that the signal was emitted rather late in the day. Physician, heal thyself!