Saturday, December 30, 2006

Stamped Impressions
Breaking free to reform
Reeta Sharma

Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh
Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh: Man behind the model jail in Amritsar

Thanks to the lack of planning by the bureaucracy, our villages are still light years away from being self-sufficient abodes. However, in the backdrop of this grim scenario, we do come across a few bureaucrats who keep us away from pessimism and defeatism. Allow me to introduce one such bureaucrat in Punjab.

Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, an IPS officer, is often ridiculed for being cynical. And why not, as he is always swimming against the tide. Whichever posting was given to him, he always took it up with zeal and with the spirit of a crusader. It was he who unearthed the kidney scam in Punjab. He fought against the system which was protecting the guilty. The kidney scam reached the courts only because of his relentless efforts.

Currently, he is posted as DIG-cum-Superintendent of Amritsar Central Jail. It is for the first time that this jail is being termed as a model jail. And the entire credit goes to the efforts made by this young officer. A jail which was plagued by groupism and unionism amongst the staff, anarchy among prisoners and chaos at large is today being talked about as the first model jail of Punjab.

Vijay Pratap has displayed a fresh perspective in handling prisoners. He has initiated various steps for the overall welfare of the prisoners. Right from educating them to the fair handling of their cases, imparting them vocational training and taking care of their mental health, he has worked on all aspects. He set up a legal aid cell to provide free legal aid to poor prisoners who have been languishing in the jail for years for facing charges of petty crime. This resulted in the release of 350 prisoners within a year. In this effort, many NGOs as well as lawyers joined hands with him.

Again, it is for the first time that this bureaucrat succeeded in roping in Guru Nanak Dev University to open an educational centre on the jail campus. It also goes to the credit of the Vice-Chancellor, S.P. Singh, who has taken personal interest in this centre, which will impart free vocational education to prisoners. The centre was inaugurated by Kiran Bedi. The vocational courses include dress designing, fabric designing, television maintenance, tailoring and cutting, computer and electronics training. In addition, the illiterate prisoners will also benefit from the recently launched literacy campaign.

Jail inmates receive training in computers
Jail inmates receive training in computers 

Prisoners working on computers is a reality in Amritsar Jail, thanks to State Bank of India which donated five computers in addition to the 15 installed by Guru Nanak Dev University. Qualified teachers are training prisoners in computers. The university is running certificate courses at the centre. Vijay Pratap got a portion of the jail converted into a school block, which now has five classrooms, one library, computer lab and a teachers’ room. Interestingly, the principal of the school is a qualified PhD under trial.

It is common knowledge that a majority of the jails in the country are a hub of drug trafficking. The end result is that a large number of prisoners end up as drug addicts. This was the case with the Amritsar jail too. However, Vijay Pratap took this challenge head-on. He identified drug suppliers, corrupt officials and even members of the medical staff who were involved in this racket. He took multi-pronged action to tackle this menace. To break the nexus, he not only transferred the guilty but also registered cases against them. Effective supervision checked the supply and intake of drugs.

Vijay Pratap also set up a de-addiction centre within the jail with the co-operation of the Civil Defence and Rotary Club, Amritsar. Within a year more than 100 hardcore addicts have been cured of drug addiction. Incidentally, this is the first de-Addiction centre in any Punjab jail. Yoga and meditation have also been introduced in the jail, the classes for which are being run by the Chaturvidh Yoga Ashram in the city.

The initiatives taken by him within Amritsar jail have got him an award from Indian Vision Foundation, an NGO founded by Kiran Bedi.