At the Rongyek State Central Jail

In need of better facilities and security infrastructure Gangtok, 25 May: The State Central Prison at Rongyek, about eight kilometers from the capital, houses convicts and undertrials from all over the State. The jail currently houses 289 inmates, a hundred more than its built-up capacity of 189. The infrastructure is clearly under stress and there was also a time when the number of inmates crossed 300. Speaking to Summit Times, Senior Superintendent of Police [Prison] at Rongyek, KL Tenzin, confirmed that, as per the directives of the Supreme Court, this is something that the authorities should look into seriously. He agrees that, the problem of overcrowding, if not addressed in time, could be a serious problem for the jail administration in the near future.

He pointed out that, the proposal for building additional barracks for male and female inmates had been initiated and approved by the Government earlier. The same could not be completed by the Buildings & Housing department owing to the fact that, the tender for the said project is expected to be floated afresh once the election model code of conduct is over. The growing number of inmates has also resulted in the women’s cell being shifted to the block originally constructed for political prisoners. The authorities continue to work best with what they have at an establishment which until the year 2010 did not even have a proper jail manual. About the jail manual, the nation now has an updated version of All India Prison manual 2016, which is yet to be implemented in Sikkim. Mr. Tenzin, who has earlier served as SP, Namchi Prison, has been trying to provide the requisite facilities to the inmates but rues the lack of funds. “Inmates, especially the under-trials, who are mostly young boys, need undergarments and other kinds of essentials. In the absence of NGOS and voluntary social organizations coming forward, at times, it becomes quite a challenging task and the burden falls on the Prison administration to cater to their much needed day-to-day requirements. The State Prison is located at a considerable height and especially during the winter season, it becomes unbearable for the aged and ailing inmates to cope with the severity of cold weather with their limited rationed clothing and beddings,” he shares. As for the convicts, they spend their time under incarceration learning the skills provided by the Prison vocational units. The inmates work voluntarily, learning the skills and spending their time under incarceration in a positive way, which ultimately helps them to rehabilitate once they are released from prison. The concept of imparting vocational training to the inmates has been overall quite successful. Presently they are involved in traditional choktse making, wooden furnitures, cane ‘mura’, mushroom & organic farming, dairy farming, bakery, file & envelope making and tailoring. Female inmates/UTPs lodged inside are involved in soft toy making, organic farming and the Prison Administration is in the process of imparting training on tailoring to the female inmates and UTPs.

“I am making these dolls now. It takes a lot of time,” says one of the female inmates with a smile. She asks if it is possible to sell these online and if she can do so once she is released. When Mr. Tenzin walks in, she asks him if he could get her a different size crochet hook, wool and embroidery threads. She has spent about a year in prison and has another 8-9 months to go till her release.

At the carpentry workshop, one of the inmates, a young boy, was busy carving a ‘choktse’ [a traditional wooden table]. On being asked, he says that he was a novice in the field and had started learning the skills of carving from other inmates. In a period of about one year, he has become an able craftsman.

It was observed that the workshop building where he is working is located right next to the barrack holding heinous crime convicts and that is clearly a worry. This is very dangerous. Tools like scissors, hatchets, knives, could easily be passed on to the cell holding the inmates convicted for violent crimes. The workshop needs to be shifted immediately. An alternative area for shifting the workshop to a safer place is located, says Mr Tenzin adding that the inmates have broken boulders to use in the construction of the workshop. Proposal to the effect has been sent to the Home department and they are awaiting approval for the same, he informs. The limited number of personnel in the prison is also a drawback, according to the Sr. SP. While things are under control at present, in case of a major incident, the lack of personnel could be a problem, he adds. The recruitment process is on the anvil and once the election process is over, the matter shall be looked into and taken care of, informs Mr Tenzin. The actual area belonging to the Prison extends well beyond the existing perimeter walls and the whole area needs to be thoroughly re-examined and documented properly. As understood, there exists an ongoing disagreement with the Ngor Gumpa committee regarding their area demarcation. The monastery which is located right next to the prison shares its boundaries with the Prison. Mr Tenzin believes that the problem could be resolved amicably by way of deliberations with the Gompa committee, and once it is resolved, the work for constructing perimeter walls and permanent barricading needs to be carried out on priority so as to avoid complications in the near future. The building infrastructures/walls, sentry posts were found to be in dire need of repair and maintenance work. The road leading to the Gompa was recently repaired and constructed, but the road leading to the prison which is just about half a kilometre is untended and in a shabby state. Further, the prison also lacks an effective communication system. Moreover, most of the CCTVs installed in the prison premises have become obsolete and need to be replaced. From punishment to reformation, the role of prison has changed over time and this also requires the facilities to be better even as the security of the prison is made more robust. At the same time, as Michel Foucault wrote in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, “…it is the certainty of being punished and not the horrifying spectacle of public punishment that must discourage crime.”