The daring escape of six prisoners, including the self-styled commander of a Khalistani militant group , from the Nabha Jail in Punjab is another wake-up call for the security establishment. This is the second major jailbreak in the country in the space of weeks involving high-profile prisoners jailed on terrorism charges. Both were well planned and executed. While the jailbreak by members of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) from the Bhopal Central Prison last month was planned inside and executed largely by the prisoners on their own, the incident in Nabha was aided by a group of armed men from outside wearing police uniforms. Shortly after the Bhopal jailbreak, all those who had escaped were gunned down in an alleged encounter. And a day after the Punjab incident, Khalistan Liberation Front chief Harminder Mintoo was nabbed in Delhi, while the alleged mastermind, Parminder Singh, was arrested in Shamli district in western Uttar Pradesh. Apart from Mintoo, the five others who escaped are still at large. They are identified as Kashmira Singh, an alleged terrorist, and Vicky Gaundar, Amandeep Dhotian, Gurpreet Sekhon and Nita Deol, all described as dreaded gangsters. It is not clear if the plan was to release the militants or the gangsters, or all of them. Whatever the aim, it is evident that the so-called high security prisons are hardly fool-proof. Those incarcerated have enough scope to hatch a conspiracy, keep in touch with accomplices outside and finalise escape plans in meticulous detail.
What is also troubling is that even before the jailbreak has been thoroughly investigated and as the hunt for the escaped men is still on, the incident has taken on political overtones. With Punjab due for an Assembly election early next year, the suspicion that these men were breaking out of jail to disturb the peace in the run-up to the polls will naturally arise. However, while voicing this suspicion, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has alleged a Pakistani hand. State Director-General of Police Suresh Arora has voiced suspicion of official connivance, noting that retaliatory firing by the police at the armed men was completely ineffective. Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh has called the incident a sign of breakdown of law and order and alleged official complicity at the highest level. While a high-level probe is necessary to unravel the entire plot and establish any laxity or connivance on the part of the authorities, the real issue is that there are too many shortcomings in the security arrangements in our jails. Introducing a new security regimen that will plug all loopholes ought to be a national priority.