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A tale of disrepair and despair

The present condition of the district prison in Sukkur reveals a tragic fate

By Sarfaraz Memon |
PUBLISHED October 17, 2021

District Prison Sukkur is spread over around five acres in an area now known as the Juvenile and Women Prison/Correctional Facility. The prison was constructed in 1904 at the juncture of New Sukkur and Old Sukkur in the city centre. According to the jail rules, there should be two prisons in every district, one central prison and the other district prison, therefore two prisons one district prison and the other central prison were constructed in Sukkur. Central prison is situated in the outskirts of the city near Babarlo bypass, while district prison is situated in the city centre. In central prison convicted prisoners with more than five-year sentences or those prisoners on death row are kept, while in district prison under trial and prisoners with up to five years sentence were to be kept.

For years the district prison served this purpose properly where one ward was especially for women and another for the juvenile prisoners. However, more recently all the convicts or under trial male prisoners have been shifted to the central prison, while only women and juvenile prisoners - whether under trial or convicted - are housed in the district prison or juvenile and women correctional facility.

According to Jail Superintendent Manzoor Ali Shah informed that presently there are 28 women and 19 boys in the prison of which some are convicted and some are under trial. Besides this, there are ten women prisoners with babies. According to him, previously there used to be a considerable number of under trial prisoners and with five years sentence male prisoners, who were shifted to the central prison, which is already housing more prisoners than its capacity. Talking about the education and vocational facilities being provided to the female prisoners he said that National Commission for Human Development has nominated a female teacher among the prisoners to teach the female prisoners hand embroidery however there are no female teachers available to carry out this role.

As far as the juvenile prisoners are concerned, there are three teachers to teach them religious as well as academic subjects, two of which have been arranged by an NGO. Talking about the provision of food to the prisoners, Shah said that food is provided to the prisoners three times a day through a contractor and Rs230 is the daily budget for food per prisoner. Regarding providing health facilities to the prisoners he said that a lady doctor is available 24/7 on call while a male doctor visits the prison thrice a week. He said that only two houses one for the superintendent and the other for the deputy superintendent were constructed at the time of building the prison, while 30 quarters for the staff were constructed later on. Talking about the historic importance of the prison, Manzoor Ali Shah said the building was constructed back in 1904 and it should have been taken good care of however, no repair or renovation has been carried out throughout the decades. Condition of the staff quarters is also pretty bad but no funds are being provided under repair and maintenance, and thus the employees are compelled to carry out repair and maintenance on their own. It may be mentioned here that just recently a scandal of provincial buildings department was unearthed, according to which repair and maintenance of the district prison and its quarters was done on paper alone.

As mentioned, the building of the district prison is situated at a prime location over five acres of land comprising of main prison building, staff quarters, a mosque, a primary school and huge vacant land. For a long time, the builder mafia under the patronage of influential politicians has been eyeing this precious plot and they keep putting out a narrative questioning why the building, which is now in the city center isn’t shifted to some other place in the outskirts of the city because the government could generate huge money by selling or leasing out this plot to the builders.

It is worth mentioning here that in Sukkur builder mafia with the connivance of the political figures have already usurped precious land belonging to the municipal corporation, irrigation, railway and revenue departments and now they are drooling over the precious space of historic district prison. The jail superintendent was of the view that keeping in view the historic importance of the jail building, it must be preserved at all cost. At the time of its construction back in 1904, there was no population at all in the surrounding areas and with the passage of time, the population went on increasing and thus the district prison building is now in the city center.

A few years ago, owing to political pressure, the Sindh government was ready to shift the prison somewhere out of the city and for this purpose all the male prisoners were shifted to central prison overnight, leaving behind female and juvenile prisoners. But, at that time, government faced strong resistance from the civil society and therefore the plan was put on hold. Since then only female and juvenile prisoners are kept in the prison, which has just further strengthened the voices of the builder mafia who are now criticising the government for wasting such a precious space for housing two or three dozen of prisoners when they could be shifted to central prison?

According to a retired jail superintendent who requested anonymity, by keeping under trial and prisoners with less than five years sentence in central prison, the government itself is violating the jail rules. According to him, all the under trial and prisoners with five years and less imprisonment should immediately be shifted to the district prison. He further said that the district prison is situated very close to the district and sessions court and therefore it is very easy to take the under-trial prisoners to the court without any risk, while central prison is situated out of the city and therefore the risk factor multiplies during the transportation of the prisoners from prison to court and back. This is not all but the central prison houses most hardened criminals and it is not wise to keep under trial prisoners with them, he added. “In the first place I am strongly against demolishing this historical structure”, he says adding, “but if the government wants to generate revenue through it, then it should construct state-of-the-art shopping mall by demolishing staff quarters and a family amusement park on the back side of the main prison building, just under the district and session court complex. In this way the government can earn huge amount by leasing out the shopping mall shops and family amusement park, while the historic building of the prison will remain intact.”

“As far as the shifting of the prisoners is concerned, constructing a couple of extra wards is needed in the central prison to accommodate female and juvenile prisoners. At present there are around 1400 prisoners housed in the central prison, while its designed capacity is to accommodate 1100 prisoners,” he said.

Senior journalist and writer Mumtaz Bukhari strongly opposed constructing shopping mall in place of district prison saying, “Once it is handed over to the builder mafia, they will easily usurp entire building. Rather to save the cultural heritage like district prison, the Sindh government should convert the main building into a museum, where historic artifacts and books and other things should be kept, besides constructing an amusement park with a café and other facilities is viable,” he said. “The historical importance of this prison should not be overruled, as big names like Hemo Kalani, Sobho Gianchandani and others were imprisoned in this jail due to their struggle against the British rule.”

As a seasoned journalist Bukhari has witnessed many precious plots going in the hands of builder mafia due to their connections in politics and bureaucracy as well. “In other countries the government preserves their culture and heritage by all means but in Pakistan, heritage and culture is ruined under the nose of the government,” he said. “The Endowment Trust Fund is responsible for preserving and maintaining the heritage in Sindh and therefore they should come forward and put its share in preserving the historical district prison.”