Overcrowding of Saptari Prison puts inmates at risk of contagious diseasesSix inmates have died in the Rajbiraj-based prison in the last one and a half years, prison officials say.
Saptari Prison in Rajbiraj currently has three times its capacity of inmates.
The prison’s overcrowding often leads to outbreaks of contagious diseases with many inmates falling ill and some succumbing to illnesses for lack of timely and proper medical treatment.
“Six inmates have died in the past one and a half years due to various illnesses,” said Satya Narayan Yadav, acting chief at the prison. “Just this Wednesday, Rabi Marik Yadav, a high blood pressure patient, died.”
Dr Ranjit Kumar Jha at Gajendra Narayan Singh Hospital in Rajbiraj said that the health situation at Saptari Prison is pitiable.
“I have visited the prison many times to provide health check ups to the inmates. Frequent outbreak of viral flu is a major health challenge at the prison,” said Jha. According to him, the chances of transmission of infectious diseases are high in the prison because of the overcrowding.
“The old and dilapidated prison building has a capacity to house 125 prisoners. However, we currently have 250 inmates including one minor and 17 women,” Acting chief Yadav said.
According to him, the prison management has informed the local, provincial and central authorities on the issue, but it has yet to hear from them.
The prison administration admits that the facility lacks enough water, toilets and rooms for the inmates.
Surendra Paudel, the chief district officer of Saptari, said despite the overcrowding, the local administration has been providing timely treatment to the prisoners.
“A health team was immediately deployed when many inmates were taken ill by viral fever a few days ago,” he said.
The prison has five bighas of land but around two bighas of land has been encroached upon by squatters.
“We have to manage a large number of prisoners in this dilapidated building. The infrastructure and the resources we have cannot provide a healthy environment for prisoners,” said Yadav.
Amidst talks of turning prisons into reform centres where inmates can live in healthy conditions, the Saptari Prison has taken a different turn, says Yadav. “We haven’t been able to address the various demands raised by the inmates to reform the prison. We don’t have the budget for that,” he said.
Yadav, a senior auxiliary health worker, was given the responsibility of the acting chief two years ago when the then prison chief Krishna Prasad Dahal was detained by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority on graft charge.
“Being a jailer is not my area of expertise but a shortage of staff at the prison has put this additional responsibility on me,” Yadav said. “I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to providing health services to inmates here.”
Paudel says despite their repeated requests, the Department of Prison Management still hasn’t deployed a jailer.
“The arrangement with Yadav is temporary,” he said.