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The misuse of a jail canteen card, and other stories from Punjab’s VIP prison

The misuse of a jail canteen card, and other stories from Punjab’s VIP prison

Overcrowded like most jails – housing 2,450 against the sanctioned capacity of 1,801 – the Patiala Central Jail has been trying to meet the demands of its special inmates.

Housing Navjot Singh Sidhu and Bikram Singh Majithia already, the Patiala Central Jail has acquired another VVIP inmate. This week, Punjabi singing star Daler Singh Mehndi landed in the jail after his petition on immigration fraud charges was dismissed.

Overcrowded like most jails – housing 2,450 against the sanctioned capacity of 1,801 – the prison has been trying to meet the demands of its special inmates.

Apart from Sidhu, Majithia and Mehndi, the jail also houses Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana and IAS officer Sanjay Popli, held recently over corruption charges.

Given the bitter rivalry between Majithia and Sidhu, their entry, one after the other, in the jail has overshadowed the others. An Akali Dal stalwart and former minister, Majithia was arrested on February 24, days after the Assembly elections had ended, in which the Congress government struggled to fight the charge of inaction in drug cases. Majithia is the most high-profile undertrial in the state’s drug racket.

Majithia fought the Assembly polls in a bitter contest against Sidhu, from the Amritsar East seat. Eventually, both lost.

Jail officials say Majithia, considered one of the most powerful men in the Akali government of 2009-17, has settled down to life in prison – after a flap in the beginning when the jail saw changes at the top seen as favouring the leader. Recently, his bail hearings have seen two judges recuse themselves.

One of Majithia’s demands has been badminton racquets, while he has expressed no issues regarding the food. He spends time reciting the gurbani, an official said.

Sidhu’s arrival at Patiala Central Jail was marked by more drama. He was arrested on May 20 after the Supreme Court sentenced him to one year in a road rage case. With the mercurial Congress leader and former minister citing health issues, a medical board comprising two doctors and a nutritionist was constituted on the direction of a Patiala court to work out a meal plan for him. It recommended a seven-meal plan a day.

The details soon went viral on social media, with many questioning how the overworked jail officials would ensure the various items, such as Rosemary tea, avocado, chia seeds, lactose-free milk, walnuts and sautéed vegetables. Usually, the prison serves three meals a day – comprising dal, roti, vegetables, and an occasional treat like kheer.

Sidhu’s lawyer H P S Verma said the Jail Department was required to provide the recommended diet as per the Prisons Manual. Patiala Jail Superintendent of Police Manjit Singh Tiwana said he had sent the file to the government for approval.

While that is still waiting, Sidhu has been managing his diet with a canteen cash card – that allows an inmate to spend up to Rs 2,500 a week for food. Lately, there has been another twist. The cricketer-turned-politician alleged a couple of days ago that his card was being misused by inmates lodged in his barrack as he had handed over the card for fruits. Following this, two inmates lodged with Sidhu were shifted out of the barrack where he is lodged.

In the latest update, Superintendent Tiwana said that a doctor who examined Sidhu due to his knee pain had advised a hard bed for the Congress leader. In the absence of one, Sidhu has been sleeping on the floor and that may be contributing to his pain. Sidhu’s lawyer H P S Verma said an orthopaedician from a Patiala hospital had examined him.

Sidhu shares his barrack with Mehndi and four others. Majithia is lodged in Jaura Chakkian cell (twin cell) along with a few other inmates. Special care is taken to ensure that Majithia and Sidhu don’t cross each other’s paths.

Popli is not the only high-ranked official held in Patiala Central Jail in a corruption case. Several others and their associates named in corruption cases by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau since AAP formed the government are now here. Among the exceptions is former forest minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, who is lodged in Nabha Jail in judicial custody.

One of the inmates, AAP leader and former health minister Vijay Singla, was recently released on bail.

Mehndi has been sentenced to two years in the 2018 case of immigration fraud.

Given death for the assassination of Beant Singh, Rajoana, in contrast with the others, has been lodged in Patiala Central Jail for years, with his mercy plea pending. The Akali Dal has been seeking that his sentence be commuted to life, and fielded his sister Kamaldeep Kaur in the recent Sangrur parliemantary bypoll. She lost her deposit.

©Indian Express

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