Overcrowded Rolpa District Prison in dilapidated conditionThere have been numerous attempts to demolish the old prison and construct a new one, but lack of appropriate land plot has put the plan on hold, say prison officials.
The eight-room Rolpa District Prison, built 37 years ago, was originally meant to hold 40 prisoners, but it currently houses 86 inmates. This overcrowding might lead to an outbreak of diseases, said Krishna Dangi, a health worker at the local health post.
“Sixty-five prisoners fell ill a couple of months back. The prison is a breeding ground for communicable diseases,” Dangi said.
The prison, spread across six ropanis of land, is in a dilapidated condition. Although the provincial government had allocated Rs10 million for the construction of a new prison, the prison administration’s failure to acquire land has prevented it from utilising the budget.
"The project has yet to take off we have been unable to find a suitable land plot," said Laxman Dhakal, chief district officer of Rolpa. “We are looking for land in Libang, the headquarters of the district, and its surrounding areas."
The current location of the prison is unsuitable, as there are two private buildings, a school and the office of the public prosecutor looming tall in close proximity.
“The prison, which is surrounded by tall buildings, is not safe for prisoners,” said Yam Lal Oli, the jailer of Rolpa District Prison.
However, Oli is worried not just about the prisoners’ safety but also the local residents. In the last 10 years, there have been three cases of prison breakouts in which more than a dozen prisoners escaped by digging a tunnel through the prison boundary wall.
“Some of the escaped prisoners are still at large. Some are hardened criminals, but the poor infrastructure of the prison made it easy for them to break out,” said Oli.
The prison administration and staff are also suffering from a lack of space and proper physical infrastructure.
“The prison currently runs from a rented building. It’s difficult for prison employees to work effectively in the absence of a proper office setup,” said CDO Dhakal.
There have been numerous attempts to demolish the old prison building and construct a new one, but every effort has gone in vain.
"Several initiatives were taken in the past to shift the prison and make it more secure," said Diwakar Acharya, a former jailer of Rolpa District Prison.
"But the land issue has hindered the process.”
Meanwhile, according to Oli, the budget allocated for building a new prison does not meet the cost of land.
“We have the budget to build a new prison, but the given budget is not enough to buy land. Residents of Reugha had agreed to provide the prison with 20 ropanis of land, but no agreement has been reached yet,” Oli said.
Because of the overcrowding and poor facility, the prison, which aims to be a reform centre, has not been able to create a conducive environment for prisoners to learn and grow their skills.
“We don’t even have enough toilets,” said Oli.
The District Security Committee had advised the prison administration to sell the existing plot of land and shift the prison to a new location.
Locals and the administration have raised this issue with political leaders and bureaucrats, but in the absence of proper planning, both repair works and initiatives to shift the prison to a secure location are in limbo.
"We regularly notify the Department of Prison Management on the recommendations given to the prison by judges of district and high courts, rights activists and journalists, who often visit the prison to check the living conditions of prisoners, but our requests go unheard," said Oli.
The written reports on the condition of the prison were submitted to the then Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara as well as Barsha Man Pun, current energy minister and former finance minister.
"We continue to house prisoners in this dilapidated structure which is becoming more insecure with every passing day. For now, we have increased the number of security personnel and are working towards repairing the current structure," said Oli.