Saturday, April 20, 2024

Jailer, Class Apart


Rajni Sehgal, J&K’s most senior female jailor who once jumped to newspaper front pages for training Bangladeshi prisoners in Kashmir embroidery in Kot Bhalwal, was booked for fraud by the state police. But, R S Gull says the lady has a long history of enjoying the abuse and misuse of authority.

Rajni Sehgal

The government operates with its own pace. After being around for a long time, the JK Police’s ‘Crime Branch’ finally lodged a formal case against Mrs Rajni Sehgal, one of the senior jailers of the state, who has headed Kot Bhalwal for a long time. She had embezzled a treasure that was discovered accidently by the prisoners while working on a vegetable garden within the jail premises. That was in September 2012 and the case was registered only after the state home department permitted the police to go against its senior officer.

Charged for offences punishable under Sections 420, 409, 465, 466, 467, 468, 471 and 120-B RPC read with Section 5/24 Treasures Trove Act, 1954, this is an interesting case against Rajni. In September 2012, preliminary police investigations suggest, convicts were digging around in the premises of Kot Bhalwal jail that they detected a treasure.

It was a sealed earthen pot in which there were lots of coins. It was dug out with care but the pot broke down. The metallic objects and the parts of the earthenware were carefully wrapped in a newspaper and handed over to jail’s two Chakkar Hawaldar’s Ravi Kumar and Mohan Lal. They handed it over to the then Jail Superintendent Rajni Sehgal.

A lull followed. Within a few days there were murmurs around and preliminary investigations led the Prison Department to initiate an internal enquiry in November 2012. There was panic reaction in the jail as its staff resorted to a series of measures.

Prisoners associated with the digging were told to ensure they say the recovery took place in November 2012, around Diwali, and not in September. Some of them who might not have conveyed staying cooperative were delivered threats. “Ravi Kumar, Mohan Lal and Suman Kumar on the directions of Rajni Sehgal, approached the inmates and threatened them that if they will reveal the truth regarding the actual date and quantity of the recovered objects, a red entry shall be made in their records which shall hamper their release,” SSP Crime Branch Mubbashir Lattifi was quoted saying. “The inmates were also tortured and forced to lie.”

At the same time, the jail superintendent sent a letter to the Directorate of Archives in Jammu communicating the recovery. This, Lattifi says was done when Sehgal had already faked and forged records mentioning wrong date. The reference to Directorate of Archives and Museums, he says, was “to put a veil over her misdeeds”. She deliberately skipped informing her department about the recovery which, cops say, indicated her mala fide intensions. J&K Treasure Trove Act demands the officer to inform the District Magistrate concerned, regarding the recovery.

Investigations have revealed that treasure comprises of 450 to 500 coins but the records faked by the officer have reduced the number of metallic objects to 107. These were actually coins belonging to the era of Muhammad Gauri, Balban, and Ala-ud-din Khilji. It was a mix of gold and copper coins. Three years later, the formal process of law has reached a level that the police have registered a formal case against Sehgal and three of her confidant associates.

Crime Branch investigations came too early for Mrs Sehgal. She had resumed duties as Superintendent Udhampur jail on August 27, 2014 after remaining suspended for more than 15 months.  The reason: a convict Vinod Kumar killed a fellow prisoner, Pakistani resident Sanaullah Ranjay in Kot Bhalwal jail on May 3, 2013. Kumar a former soldier from Uttrakhand was convicted for killing a fellow soldier in Leh.

Sonaullah Ranjay
Sonaullah Ranjay

Ranjay was an interesting character. He was facing life imprisonment for two terror attacks in 1994, the crimes he had never committed because he was already in jail, investigations revealed after his death. Though his jailer had nothing to do with Ranjay’s conviction, she was found absent when he was attacked.

Arrested for crossing the border illegally, Ranjay, a resident of neighbouring Sialkot, was with police since 1989. He was lodged in its district jail at Amphalla between 1989 and 1992. After being freed, he had told a reporter he was sent from Kanachak police station to R S Pora where he was awaited deportation that police arrested him for series of terror attacks. Waiting to complete his life term, Ranjay suffered a serious attack and died in PGI Chandigarh, the other day.

Prisons Department initiated action: services of Mrs Sehgal were suspended as she was out of the prison when the incident took place. Javed Masood Fazili replaced her. Initial investigation carried out by IAS officer Suresh Kumar, Principal Secretary Home, indicted Sehgal and eight other staffers including Assistant Superintendent Om Prakash Sharma for negligence and carelessness.

Ranjay’s case became a diplomatic issue and the Supreme Court also passed serious strictures against the state government, Superintendent of Jammu jail Dinesh Sharma was asked to conduct an inquiry into the happenings in Kot Bhalwal jail. By October 2013, he had submitted his report suggesting the jail authorities are used to subjecting all kind of inmates to forced labour. Those subjected to forced labour include people in protective custody, and the under-trails.

Mrs Sehgal was personally held responsible for torturing inmates. On Nov 29, 2011, High Court sought her personal reply in a petition by Kashmir Bar Association accusing her of torturing jail inmates. She superintended Kot Bhalwal since December 10, 2010 till her services were attached after Ranjay murder.

By March 2014, however, ADG rank officer D R Doley Burman was investigating the case. She, however, absolved Mrs Sehgal of any culpability. On July 22, 2014 Mrs Sehgal was reinstated with an advice that she should remain careful in future while discharging her duties and not to leave the headquarter without prior permission of her superiors. Now Crime Branch is investigating her for another case.

But the jailer has already one embarrassing case hanging in fire. It is pretty interesting and might be a historic one, at laest in J&K. In November 2012, Ravinder Singh, an under trial facing murder charges, approached court saying his jailer is using a jail-mate, also an under trial to impersonate her in the examinations!

Singh noticed it in June 2012 that Paramjit Singh was appearing as a proxy candidate for Mrs Sehgal in the annual examination for Master in Sociology through IGNOU. The examination centre was in Jammu’s district jail in Amphalla. He decided to be a whistle-blower.

As the investigations started, it was found that, apart from Paramjit, another inmate Kulwant Singh, was also being used as proxy candidate to write the examination papers. Mrs Sehgal, investigations found, had enrolled herself for MA in 2005. In 2008, she used Kulwant to sit in the examination on her behalf. She managed passage of most of the subjects in that semester. But when her examination centre was shifted to Jammu University, Mrs Sehgal, investigations found, reported absent in the subsequent examinations.

The powerful jailer managed shifting the examination centre back to Amphalla jail where the IGNOU runs its study centre. But she faced a crisis. Kulwant had enrolled himself as a candidate and was obviously not in a position to write her papers. Investigations found that the jailer sought help of Amphalla jail superintendent Vinod Kumar and the two convinced another under trail Paramjit Singh Salathia to impersonate her in 2012 examinations.

Ravinder Singh finally filed a case on November 7, 2012 on basis of which the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jammu directed investigations and registration of FIR. Police Station Pacca Danga  registered FIR No 88/2013 on May 16, 2013 under Section 420, 419, 115, 468, 471, 120-B RPC and 2/5 Prevention of Unfair Means Examination Act, 1987. Police case and the departmental inquiry indicted both the Jail Superintendents Rajni Sehgal and Vinod Kumar.

The latest on the case is it is being heard by Mr Justice Tashi Rabstan of the High Court. On July 15, 2014 the court had issued notices to the government and the accused and by August 24, 2014 there was no response in the courtroom following which last opportunity was given to the accused. By then, however, the DG Prisons had sought explanation from Mrs Sehgal Article 128 of J&K Civil Service Regulations.

But what happens to the cases against her? It is too early to hazard a guess. In J&K, however, there are precedents. Jail superintendents have served jail terms in the same jail they administered. And jailers have killed inmates in the jail and still survived.

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