BAHAWALNAGAR: Incomplete residences for warders on the jail premises which were supposed to be completed in 2018. — Dawn
BAHAWALNAGAR: Incomplete residences for warders on the jail premises which were supposed to be completed in 2018. — Dawn

BAHAWALNAGAR: Relatives of prisoners and officials of the District Jail have levelled serious allegations against the superintendent, that include charges of taking extortion money from prisoners’ families, torture of prisoners, corruption, abuse of authority, mismanagement and misbehavior with the staff.

The allegations have been denied by the superintendent who says that the current and former staff of the jail unhappy with the jail reforms are behind the campaign against him.

Samina Bibi of Mauza Abdullah Autar, along with her old father-in-law Faryad Hussain and mother-in-law Zahooran Bibi, told Dawn the influential enemies of her husband, Shabbir, trapped him in a fake case and he was serving his term in the district jail. She alleged Shabbir was being kept in chakki (a very small cell where hardened and dangerous criminals were kept) and was being tortured by the jail staff at the behest of his enemies.

Samina said when she or any other family member went to meet Shabbir they had to bribe the jail officials. She claimed that once when she was over seven months pregnant, she went to meet Shabbir but could not afford bribe and she was not allowed to meet him. At her protest, she was slapped and pushed out of the jail. Due to the torture, she gave premature birth to her baby the next day. She was later allowed to meet her husband on the court orders.

Superintendent terms charges a conspiracy of staff unhappy with reforms

Shabbir’s father claimed he had so far paid Rs500,000 to the jail staff to stop torturing his son. He said now he had nothing left to give in bribe because of which his son was again being tortured. He feared for the life of his son.

Nazia, a resident of Chak Madrassah, said her brother was sentenced in a bogus cheque case and on the orders of jail superintendent, her brother was given the punishment of Ardi (a strict punishment for prisoners given to robbers involved in more than four cases). She said that money was demanded from her and she lodged her protest with the superintendent.

Confirming the allegations made above, sources in the district jail alleged Superintendent Zubair Cheema was also involved in corruption, misuse of funds, deployment of jail officials at his residence outside the jail and at the residence of government officials and taking ‘monthlies’ from absent prison officials to mark their attendance.

Muhammad Zaman, an official who was recently transferred from the district jail and some other officials, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that drugs were sold openly in the prison and the prisoners who didn’t work at the mess had to pay Rs5,000 each and Rs200,000 were gathered every month from the prisoners who did not work at the mess. They alleged that prisoners are allotted barracks of their own choice for Rs10,000. Each prisoner paid Rs500 to the barrack in-charge and up to Rs2,500 to chief checker every month, they alleged and added that Rs1,500 were received for every prisoner for 20 minutes visitation outside the jail so he could meet his relatives freely. The contract for shed for this visitation had been given to a prisoner, named Zahoor.

The official said a prisoner, Muhammad Shafique, was getting Rs1,000 from every new prisoner. They said that barrack in-charge charges different amounts for ‘monthlies’ for different categories of prisoners whereas there were different charges to get VIP protocol.

According to the jail officials, sale of drugs is ongoing openly and its ‘contract’ had been given to prisoners, Zafar and Ashiq Mahaar.

The jail sources said that prisoners used drugs, including heroin through injection, which increased the AIDS cases number as the AIDS patients had not been separated from other prisoners.

Two health department officials, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that in August 2019, the number of AIDS patients in the district was 24, out of which 15 were prisoners, and now this number had crossed 40.

The jail sources while sharing documentary evidences alleged corruption at the prison could be gauged from a case when according to the night book report of Oct 21, 2019, the roof and walls of quarters 8, 10 and 11 collapsed due to a rainstorm. However, the sources claimed the quarters were demolished by prisoners, sweepers and workers on the orders of the superintendent.

The jail officials alleged the officials had to give Rs13,000 per month to the superintendent to avail leaves whereas for Rs15,000, any warder could get their pay while sitting at home. They identified warders Noor Ali, Muhammad Imran, Umar Farooq, Asif Joya, Khalid, Muhammad Ashraf Dogar, Sarfaraz Sattar, Muneer, Ahmed Ali and Zahoor, who were getting paid while being absent for the last 18 months. They said the claim could be verified through CCTV cameras of the prison.

Muhammad Zaman said he had filed an application against the superintendent with the director anti-corruption establishment Bahawalpur, however, no action had been taken.

Wardar Riyasat Ali, in his application submitted on Dec 7, 2019, to Bahawalpur DIG Prisons, leveled allegations against misbehaviour, harassment and abuse of power and demanded action against the superintendent.

According to Riyasat, his attendance was not marked despite him being on duty and he was being threatened with dismissal from service. Later, on the orders of Bahawalpur DIG Prisons, he was allowed to come back to his duty and resume service.

Other warders had lodged similar complaints with the authorities.

Giving the example of warders Zulfiqar and Ateeq Shah, the sources claimed that when they went to higher authorities with complaints about the superintendent they were offered to get transferred to the prisons of their choice. Later, one was transferred to Bahawalpur and the other to Lodhran.

The sources said because of the lack of living space for prison staff, warder lines and a multi-storey project for officials’ families was started in 2016 with the cost of Rs70m and it was 80pc completed in October 2017 but soon after the appointment of Zubair Cheema, the construction was stopped. They alleged that building material was stolen and not only the contractor left but also the building department officials had also been misbehaved with and they refused to do work at the prison.

Owner of the Progressive Construction Company, Faizul Hassan Faizi, said at the time of the appointment of Mr Cheema, the project was in final phases. However, the superintendent started creating problems for engineers and other staff of the company and later banned their entry into the prison. He alleged that building material worth Rs700,000 was stolen from the prison. He said they had complained about this to the Punjab IG and he appointed Sahiwal DIG Kamran Anjum as the inquiry officer.

He said all the evidences were handed over to the DIG but he was pressurised to have a compromise. He alleged some of the stolen material was still in use in the residence of superintendent jail and the prison. He demanded that IG prisons reopen the case.

Bahawalnagar Superintendent Jail Zubair Cheema denied all the charges, saying that Shabbir’s family had a criminal record whereas the medical examination conducted on the orders of the court did not prove torture. He said on Nazia’s request, the punishment of Ardi was withdrawn from her brother.

On the question of drugs and extortion in the jail, he said that there was no truth about these allegations. He said some former and current officials of the prison were not happy with the reforms in the prison and they were leveling allegations against him.

To the question of officials getting paid while being absent and deployment of officials at private residences, Mr Cheema said according to the jail record, all officials were present in the prison.

When asked about the fake night book report and the collapse of quarters, the superintendent said the uplift work was going on in the prison with the permission of higher authorities. He said warder Riyasat was a fraud and deserved strict punishment and Bahawalpur DIG had also instructed him to take strict action against him.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2020

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