1100-1500 prisoners, led by Maoists, went on fast in Palamu, Hazaribagh, Garhwa

After simultaneous hunger strikes by 1,100-1,500 prisoners across central and district jails in Palamu, Hazaribagh and Garhwa districts last week, the Jharkhand Sentence Review Board has recommended the release of 53 lifers who have completed 14 years.

In the protests, led by jailed Maoists, the prisoners refused food, demanding that the board, which had not met in a year, convene a meeting to consider remitting sentences of those serving life terms, said prison officials.

In the Palamu jail, from where eight had applied for release, 410 prisoners went on fast. “On January 31, eight prisoners called a fast. The next day 20 more joined them. They refused food, taking only water or lemon juice and water. By February 6, 410 of 817 prisoners were on strike led by Naveenji, a Maoist prisoner, and Satish,” said a senior official in the Palamu central jail on condition of anonymity.

Jail Superintendent Uday Khushwaha said the prisoners’ blood pressure was monitored and saline drip was administered to those who refused to eat for days. “In my 28 years here, I had not seen prisoners going on a mass fast before,” he said.

While it was mostly prisoners in central jails, where all those serving life terms are kept, who went on fast, in some instances prisoners in district jails too joined the protest in large numbers. Bandi Sangharsh Samitis — prison committees — led by Maoist prisoners have been active in the Garhwa district jail for several years. “The sangathan members [Maoists] imprisoned here have led a fast several times. But this time, 515 of the total 640 prisoners — the largest number — went on a fast for four days, Superintendent K. Paswan.

None of the prisoners in the Garhwa jail had directly applied for remission, he added.

Officials of the Hazaribagh jail put the number of prisoners who went on strike there at over 250.

The CPI (Maoist) called a bandh on February 7 in support of the striking prisoners.

While there is no official estimate of the total number of prisoners serving life sentences in the State, the Additional Advocate-General, in a status report to the Jharkhand High Court, said 152 petitions for remission of life sentence were pending before the review board and of these 106 were considered.

“Of 106, we approved the release of 53 prisoners. These will now be considered by Chief Minister Hemant Soren. He has approved these already in his capacity as Home Minister,” said Inspector- General (Prisons) Shailendra Bhushan.

A board meeting, scheduled for November 2013, was postponed until after the prisoners went on collective fast. “SC guidelines require taking the opinion of the presiding officers of the courts concerned and we had not received these,” Mr. Bhushan said.