Amid curbs on hearings, families, inmates riot in Bengal jail, 12 hurt

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Prisoners pelting stones from inside Dumdum jail. (Express photo)

At least one inmate was reported dead in a major clash believed to have been triggered by restrictions resulting from coronavirus at Dumdum Central Jail on Saturday afternoon. As prisoners ran riot, attacking police, beating up officials and setting an office on fire, police fired teargas and used lathicharge.

Nearly a dozen people were injured in the clash, including officials. Several are critical and hospitalised. There was no official confirmation on the death of an inmate.

While jail officials said it was a clash between two groups, sources said the inmates were agitated that the measures taken to check COVID-19 meant delay in court hearings and cancellations of meetings with families. They also demanded masks and better hygiene in the jail which houses over 2,500 inmates.

A senior police officer told The Indian Express, “The inmates were unhappy that courts have shut down since March 12 and trials and hearings are not happening. Then came the order banning meetings with families over coronavirus till March 21. We think a section of the inmates tried to exploit this to escape.”

A Dumdum prison official present when the violence happened said, “The undertrials were unhappy as there is no chance of getting bail. DIG Arindam Sarkar and Jail Superintendent Subhendu Krishna Ghosh tried to explain things to them. But they were very agitated.”

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State Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick, who visited the jail, said they believe the clash was planned with the intention to escape. “It was not a law and order problem. Here there is no law and order problem. I think it was planned by some inmates. An inquiry will identify them,” Mullick said.

Fire Services Minister Sujit Bose, who also visited the spot, said the fire had been controlled quickly though they faced problems gaining entry into the prison.

Jail Department sources said trouble began around 11 am when a section of the inmates approached officials to complaint about their parole applications not being granted. They left after being told the orders were still awaited, officials said.

However, 15 minutes later, as senior officers were leaving, a section of the inmates started stone-pelting. Officials said the prisoners tried to lock them up in a room and set it on fire, but they managed to escape and bolted the main gate. The prisoners managed to break an inside gate as well as the main entrance, when guards opened firing in the air to stop them.

The inmates then set fire to a mess kitchen and canteen on the prison premises, also blasting gas cylinders, as well as a jail office. Some inmates could be seen trying to build a ramp and scale the jail walls, as well as brandishing countrymade pistols.

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A huge contingent of police was rushed to the spot, led by SP, North 24 Parganas, Manoj Verma. Prisoners pelted stones when police tried to enter. Sources stated rubber bullets were used to control the inmates.

The situation was only brought under control by 6.30 pm.

Later in the evening, Piyush Goyal, ADG and IGP, State Crime Records Bureau, was posted as ADG and IG, Correctional Services.

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