Maha launches jail tourism project from Pune's Yerawada prison

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(Eds: Updating with more info) Mumbai, Jan 26 (PTI) In a first such initiative, the Maharashtra government on Tuesday launched 'jail tourism' in the state from the 150-year-old Yerawada prison in Pune, with an aim to help students and other citizens experience 'vignettes from history'.

Launching the initiative, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that people will be able to understand the struggles of freedom fighters by visiting jails under this initiative.

Several freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Sarojini Naidu and Subhas Chandra Bose, had been imprisoned at the Yerawada prison under the British rule.

'CM Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray today launched a unique jail tourism initiative. This will help school and college students, history enthusiasts and citizens to experience vignettes from our history,' the Chief Ministers Office (CMO) said in a tweet.

Addressing the initiative launch event virtually, the chief minister referred to his father, Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackerays days spent at the Yerawada prison.

The CM said he used to meet his father in the prison.

'He (Balasaheb Thackeray) used to send us letters,' he said.

On the occasion, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar read out a letter sent from the prison by Balasaheb Thackeray to his wife Meenatai Thackeray.

The chief minister also talked about the imprisonment of Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar and various other freedom fighters and the plight they suffered inside jails.

'It is a novel concept. People talk about visiting (hill stations) like Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala. They may say they have been to jail (after launch of the initiative),' the chief minister said in a lighter vein.

'But one need not commit a crime for going to jail. We have shown a new path of tourism. Jail Yatra,' an official statement said quoting Uddhav Thackeray.

The chief minister also said that inmates inside prisons are a 'big manpower'.

Efforts should also be made to show a right direction to those 'who have lost their direction', he said.

'We should make efforts to see those who are released from jail lead a respectful life,' he said.

Meanwhile, the CM also inaugurated five new cyber police stations located in the south, central, east, west and north zones of Mumbai Police, another official statement said.

He likened criminal activities to the novel coronavirus and said the police of Mumbai and Maharashtra have 'got a vaccine' to teach a lesson to those who engage in it.

'We are proud of it. Cyber crime is not visible to eyes. Our battle against such an invisible enemy has started more ably now (with the inauguration of cyber police stations),' the statement said quoting Uddhav Thackeray.

Without mentioning any specific incident, the CM also asked police not to become 'restless' if anyone defames them.

'Because you have exposed them, not only I as the chief minister, but the entire Maharashtra is proud of you.

Hence, the government is standing behind you with all its strength,' he said.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and Minister of State for Home Satej Patil were present on the occasion via video-conferencing,the statementsaid.

State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, Mumbai's Guardian Minister Aslam Shaikh and other leaders also attended the programme.

Deshmukh last week said prisons in Thane, Nashik and Ratnagiri will also be part of the jail tourism initiative.

Yerawada prison officials said only 50 people can visit per day due to pandemic as of now.

Tourists will have to obtain prior permission and to pay fees ranging from Rs 5 to 50, they said.

Tourists can see Gandhi yard, Tilak yard, Fashi (hanging) yard and other historical places in the prison, they said.

Earlier in the day, jail authorities allowed students of a city-based school to visit the places associated with freedom fighters inside the Yerawada prison.

'Due to this concept of tourism, we can see historical places including the Gandhi yard, Tilak yard and the place of Pune pact. We felt quite excited,' they told reporters. PTI ENM COR GK NSK NSK