Big names crowd Tihar, but authorities cannot cope

Delhi's crowded Tihar Jail is getting to host more high-profile criminals, politicians and their kin, thanks to faster court decisions spurred by a vigilant media.

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Big names crowd Tihar, but authorities cannot cope


NEW DELHI: Delhi's crowded Tihar Jail is getting to host more high-profile criminals, politicians and their kin, thanks to faster court decisions spurred by a vigilant media. But the presence of so many notables is proving a headache for jail authorities.

Tihar, one of Asia's largest jails, at present has as inmates at least five politicians, including two MPs, and relatives of politicians as well as criminals with a media profile.

The latest to enter the portals of the prison, which houses more than 11,500 inmates against a capacity of 6,250, is former Congress leader Romesh Sharma who was sentenced this week to life imprisonment for the murder of his fashion designer girlfriend Kunjum Bhudhiraja in 1999.

While the public is happy whenever a guilty politician is sent to jail, it increases the workload for the already harassed prison officials.

The two MPs are Pappu Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Babubhai Katara of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While Pappu Yadav, alias Rajan Tiwari, is in Jail No.3 serving a life term for his involvement in the murder of  trade union leader Ajit Sarkar in 1998, Katara is facing trial for trying to take a woman and a boy out of the country fraudulently on the passports of his wife and son. Katara is cooling his heels in Jail No.4.

The other notables are former Delhi councillor Sharda Jain, who was given a life term last year for her role in the sensational murder of city councillor Atma Ram Gupta five years ago, and former Youth Congress leader Sushil Sharma, sentenced to the gallows for killing his wife Naina Sahni in 1995 and trying to dispose of her body in the oven of a hotel in what came to be known as the infamous 'Tandoor case'. Sharma is in Jail No.2. His appeal  against the death sentence is still pending before the apex court .

"The number of such under-trials and convicts has shot up in recent years. A few years ago we would hardly get any politicians or their kin and their security was not of much concern to us. Now we get a high-profile criminal or such accused almost every month," a jail official said on condition of anonymity.

Among the kin of politicians are Manu Sharma aka Siddharth Vashisht, son of former Congress leader Venod Sharma, serving life for gunning down well-known model Jessica Lall in April 1999. He is in Jail No.2. His friend, Vikas Yadav, son of another politician D.P. Yadav, is facing trial in the murder of business executive Nitish Katara in 2002. He has been found guilty of destroying evidence and conspiracy, for which he has already served a four-year term in Jail No.4.

There is also Santosh Kumar Singh, an advocate and the son of a police inspector general. He was sentenced to the gallows last year for the rape and murder of law student Priyadarshini Mattoo in 1996. He is in Jail No.2.

Among other well known inmates are Abhishek Verma, son of former Congress MP Veena Verma, facing charges in the Navy war room leak case, and Afzal Guru, awarded death for his involvement in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. Pakistani national Mohammed Arif alias Mohammed Ashfaq has also been awarded death for attacking the Red Fort in December 2000.

Other big names who have stayed for some time in the jail include extradited mobster Abu Salem, former Samajwadi Party MP Atiq Khan, former coal minister Shibu Soren,  'bikini killer' Charles Shobraj, who is now in a Kathmandu jail, and Rahul Mahajan, the son of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.

Jail officials admit that dealing with such inmates is not an easy job.

"One knows of the kind of VIP treatment they seek and the tantrums they kick up in jail. They never leave their attitudes behind and want to live king size even behind the bars. They are ready to shell out any amount to get all the comforts against the jail manual," said another jail official, declining to be named.

The treatment they demand ranges from refusing to do the mandatory work they are supposed to in jail, getting food from home or from hotels, bottled drinking water and expensive blankets.
Jail officials say it is very hard to get some of the high-profile prisoners to do the work assigned. "On paper they are engaged in some work or the other, but in reality they don't do anything," said an official.

The jail authorities are always on guard against any fights involving such guests. "As brawls are very common in jail, our main concern is to provide them security as even a scar on their body makes news headlines the next morning. We have to be on guard about their health and conduct inside the jail," an official said.

Some affluent VIP guests also use their money to get other inmates to do them favours, said another official.

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