Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, an officer of 1998 batch of Indian Police Service (IPS) of Punjab Cadre was made DIG Prisons in December 2005 with Headquarters at Amritsar Central Prison. The idea was to develop Amritsar Central Prison into a model prison which could be replicated in the other prisons of Punjab. This was a part of an initiative taken by the Government of Punjab towards Prison reforms in order to streamline the functioning of Prisons in the State, keeping in view the deteriorating conditions of Punjab Prisons.
Kunwar became the youngest IPS officer in the country to be posted in the Prison Department in a short span of 7 Years of service. It was total chaos and mismanagement and mistrust between the prisoners and the prison staff when he took over. He not only took the prison staff in confidence but also utilized the potential of the prisoners and associated the community at large in the process of reformation.
The Education Centre, established with the help of the educated prisoners, was not only recognized by the Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar but the University also supported this project by providing infrastructure and by appointing special faculty for imparting vocational courses specially designed for the prisoners. The Centre of Excellence in Computers established by the officer with the help of prisoners and supported by the University has generated at least 200 computer literate people in this prison so far. A self sufficient ‘Total Literacy Campaign’ was launched to impart basic education to the illiterate prisoners with the help of educated prisoners and supported by the Community.
Legal Aid Cell, established with the help of prisoners having legal background in collaboration with District legal Services Authority contributed in releasing more than 400 poor prisoners. With the efforts of the officer, the foreigners were provided consular access to pave the way for repatriation to their respective countries.
The free flow of Narcotics was stopped and De-addiction centre was set up with the help of Rotary Club. Project H-71, in collaboration with UNODC, was also implemented to prevent drug driven HIV. Wooden cots were provided to the prisoners to make them feel good. Special projects were launched for the vocational education of female inmates with the help of Home Science wing of Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The children living with them were enrolled in the schools outside the prison for the first time in the history of Punjab Prisons.
Yoga was made part of life in collaboration with the local chapter of Patanjali Yog Peeth Trust, Haridwar founded by Swami Ramdevji. Swamiji himself visited this prison on 17.11.06. He not only appreciated the ongoing reforms but was also overwhelmed to see the respect of human values and dignity of mankind in this Prison.
In less than a year, Amritsar prison became a model for Punjab. The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) of Government of India, recognizing the reforms, organized a training programme "Seeing is Learning" for Prison Superintendents of North India at Central Jail, Amritsar in November, 2006, where Valedictory address was made by Dr. Kiran Bedi, Director General, BPR&D. In recognition of contributions made by the officer in Prison Reforms, he was awarded with IVF award 2006 by Dr. Kiran Bedi and was also entrusted with the responsibility of Honorary Director of Punjab Chapter of India Vision Foundation.
Earlier served in Punjab Police in various capacities with major stints as SP City Amritsar, SP Mohali and SSP Ferozepur, the officer has distinction to detect the infamous kidney scam, CBSE PMT scam and first cyber crime of Punjab. He is also responsible for free and impartial Parliament elections in 2004 in Ferozepur which was a major challenge for the Election Commission of India. Decorated with prestigious Baba Farid Award 2004 for Honesty, he has commanded 7th Battalion of Punjab Armed Police and 3rd India Reserve Battalion.
Important News Items
Hindustan Times// 06 February 2006
Amritsar jail a learning experience
AMANDEEP Kaur Amritsar, February 5 INMATES of the Amritsar Central Jail are on the road to reform, thanks to a concerted education campaign launched by authorities under which educated jail inmates, some of them even doctorates, have taken to the noble profession of teaching.
They are now using their energies more purposefully by teaching 250 illiterate students lodged in the jail under the Total Literacy Campaign. The students have been divided into nine batches comprising 25-30 students each.
The inmates’ will to turn over a new leaf is also demonstrated by the fact that 25 of them have applied for graduate and postgraduate courses run by Guru Nanak Dev University and other institutions.
In the faculty of Continuing Education, over 100 inmates have applied for matriculation and 10+2. What’s more, coordinators and assistant coordinators for every course have been appointed from among the inmates.
The authorities have now introduced computer education on inmates’ demand, to which 25 students have enrolled in the first batch. Besides, over 200 inmates are doing language courses like Gyani, Prabhakar, Budhimani, Basic English and Basic Hindi.
SSP Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said their main concern is to ensure that prisoners utilize their time more constructively. “After all, it is our moral responsibility to enable them to join the social mainstream so that they command respect as citizens. I am sure that after their release, many of them would contribute significantly to the society,” he said.
The SSP said they were getting all the support from charitable and educational institutions in running these courses. “We are also in the process of setting up a library in the jail,” he added.
A school with a difference
The Tribune, Chandigarh/24.04.06
Varinder Walia Tribune News Service Amritsar, April 23 A unique school is running inside the high security Central Jail here, where Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other foreign nationals are lodged. Lifers and undertrials, including women and children, are receiving “formal education” from primary to postgraduate level.
“Teachers”, who have been convicted or facing trial, have been designated as “principal” or “vice-principal”.
Educational activities are looked after with the help of government resources as well as NGOs. Computer training centres would be set up by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, for imparting education to the prisoners shortly. Library with the support of NGOs has also been created.
The most important aspect of the education system in the jail is that educated prisoners voluntarily teach less educated prisoners.
A visit to the jail created an impression of a big school where young and old were receiving education in various classes.
For disciplining mind, yoga and meditation classes have also been started in a big way with the help of various voluntary organisations.
Spelling out the literacy mission inside the jail, the SSP (Jail), Mr Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh, said it aimed at the eradication of illiteracy by imparting them literacy functional knowledge and skills and also creating awareness among learners about the socio-economic reality. However, the programme has been tailored to the needs and unique capabilities of the learner.
The room of Dr Ranjit Singh Uppal, “principal”, Literacy Mission, who has been undergoing imprisonment in connection with the dowry case, had passed his M.Sc (Hons) horticulture from Khalsa College, Amritsar, with 78 per cent. He worked as a part-time lecturer in Paramedical Institutes from 1998 to 2003. He was also Director-cum-Principal of PTU Paramedical College, Amritsar, and editor of a quarterly Punjab magazine.
The “vice-principal” is Mr Gurinder Singh Randhawa, who was arrested in connection with a dowry case, is MA in Hindi and history and had vast experience of teaching.
Another teacher, also a convict, has been designated as head of the computer department. He had a stint as lecturer in the Department of Architecture, Guru Nanak Dev University.
Mr Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, SSP (Jails), said from the social point of view it was moral responsibility of the jail authorities to enable them to catch up with the rest of society. Therefore, it was endeavour of the authorities to make them eligible to command respect in society after release from the jail. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060424/punjab1.htm#21)
Let jails be correctional homes, says Kiran Bedi
Friday, November 10, 2006 Hindustan Times, Chandigarh. HT Correspondent Amritsar, November 9
EMPHASISING THE need to bring in basic human values in public service, Kiran Bedi, Director General of Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), today said that jails should be turned into correctional homes and prisoners should be treated like normal citizens.
Bedi, who addressed the valedictory session of the National Training Programme for the Prison Officers of North India that concluded at the Amritsar Central Jail today, said, “Prisoners are human beings and part of our society and it is our moral responsibility to provide them bare minimum amenities like food, water and medicine”.
Appreciating the ongoing reform process at the Central jail, she said there was a need to extend these reforms to other jails. “Amritsar jail has now become a training and research centre for officers, students and academics. The basic idea of these training programmes is to provide first-hand knowledge to participants about initiating reforms in prisons,” she added.
DIG, Jails, Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, read out the vote of thanks and expressed his gratitude to Bedi for her “continuous support and strategic guidance”. “Prisoners who have graduated in yoga, de-addiction, computers and other vocational courses will certainly contribute positively to society,” he added.
Others spoke on issues like drug addiction, HIV/AIDS in prisons and the pressing need for educational and training of woman inmates. Earlier in the day, Kiran Bedi released the first edition of ‘Momentum’, a news magazine brought out by Amritsar Central Jail and the India Vision Foundation.
UN official lauds jail reforms
Saturday, November 11, 2006 Hindustan Times, ChandigarhAmritsar, November 10 “I HAVE never seen such cooperation between prison officers and prisoners. This jail reforms model is worth implementing in other prisons in India and abroad,” said Gary Lewis, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), South Asia, during his visit to Amritsar Central Jail today.
Presiding over interactive session on “Prison-community interface”, Lewis appreciated the “rare partnership” between the community and prison at Amritsar jail. He also visited the de-addiction centre on the jail premises and interacted with the inmates. Dr Jayadev Sarangi, prison expert, UNODC, Medha Agnihotri and Amrita Bahl of India Vision Foundation and C.R. Garg, DIG, Tihar, participated in the talk. HTC
Amritsar jail inmates get tips from Ramdev
Saturday November 18, 2006 Hindustan Times, Chandigarh. HT Correspondent Amritsar, November 17 YOGA EXPONENT Swami Ramdev has said criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani was defending the main accused in the Jessica Lall murder case, Manu Sharma, for the wrong reasons.
Speaking before a yoga session at Central Jail here today morning, he said, “In the present system, the guilty can prove himself innocent with money power. This is what is happening in the Jessica case. There is no law for those who have committed a crime and are still holding respectable position as public leaders.”
On the psychological conditions of civil criminals, the yoga guru said they possessed “extra energy as an ordinary person could never dare commit a murder. But it’s up to us how we use the extra energy for positive works”.
Ramdev announced a donation of Rs 1 lakh to make the jail inmates self-dependent and help them lead a respectable life after completed the jail term.
Earlier, he visited the education and computer centres and the legal cell of Amritsar Central Jail.
Lauding SSP (Jail) Kunwar Vijay Pratap for his efforts, he called Amritsar Central Jail an ideal example to be followed by all the other jails.
Momentum behind bars
Pawan Sharma, HT Chandigarh WHAT KIND of humour would you expect in a prison magazine? ‘Inside’ jokes of course! But jokes apart, with the launch of its quarterly, Momentum, the Amritsar Central Jail becomes the first prison in the country to have such a publication.
The 12-page coloured English language magazine aims to tell those on the outside what has been going on behind bars.
Dr Kiran Bedi, Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development, recently released the magazine whose contributions describe activities being undertaken to help improve living conditions, rehabilitate and educate the convicts.
The spirit behind the Endeavour is DIG (Prisons) Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh whose innovative policies to bring about reform in this prison have fetched him an award from India Vision Foundation founded by Dr Bedi.
The inaugural edition’s cover story, Chants of freedom, reveals the transformation that has made this prison an example emulated by all prisons in Punjab.
The magazine provides glimpses of its centre of excellence in computers. Computer-literate inmates, some of them M.Sc degree in IT, are running this centre. The prison also boasts of a school, which has been developed as centre of excellence. The principal of the school, an undertrial, is a Ph.D, while some other post-graduate inmates serve as faculty. Nearly 700 students have been enrolled in various courses introduced by Guru Nanak Dev University and IGNOU.
Children below the age of six years are allowed to live with their jailed parents. It was unheard of for these children to go to school outside the jail until the Amritsar Central Jail sent the children to government primary schools.
Starting a programme for women’s empowerment, adopting a new system of mulaqat, putting in place an effective grievance redressal system, consular access to 56 prisoners of Pakistan and many other innovations launched in this prison in the past one year are reflected in the magazine.
“But this is just the beginning. There is a long way to go, to learn, perform and reform the system,” says Kunwar Vijay Pratap.
Amritsar gets a model jail
Civil Society Magazine/ October 2006Civil Society News New Delhi
When Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh took over as DIG of Amritsar Central Jail last year, the prison was in horrible shape. Built to accommodate a thousand prisoners, it housed more than double. Jail staff, notoriously unkind to inmates, was divided into warring factions. Prisoners had to grease palms for everything.
In short, Amritsar jail was like any other Indian prison. Conjure an image of a dank, cramped cell with dirty bathrooms, rotten food and jail officials ready to roast you. But in the span of one year, Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh turned Amritsar jail into a model that is being replicated across Punjab.
"I dedicate my work to the holy soil of Amritsar," he said as he walked away with an award given by the India Vision Foundation in recognition of his work. The foundation is headed by Kiran Bedi, India's first woman police officer, well known for her zealous efforts to reform Tihar jail, Asia's largest prison, which won her the Magsaysay award. She started the foundation to continue her work.
While most Indian jails carry on as medieval dungeons, a small movement for reform is underway inspired by Kiran Bedi's efforts. "It showed us that relations between jailors and prisoners can be changed," remarked one jail official.
The award function, held on 31 August, also honoured SP Singh, the vice-chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, (GNDU) for extending educational facilities to inmates of Amritsar jail. Sunil Kumar Gupta, a law officer from Delhi Central Jail, was honoured for his efforts to get undertrials released while a team of jail officials from Haridwar were awarded for introducing organic farming in their prison.
The turnaround at Amritsar jail is dramatic because Vijay Pratap's reforms sought to change the character of the prison. Jails don't need to be congested. Across India thousands of prisoners are under trial. Most jail officials agree that almost 80 per cent are arrested for offences that are bailable but many prisoners are too poor to pay.
"I wanted to save ordinary prisoners from becoming criminals," says Vijay Pratap. He helped to get 350 undertrials released. He got a Legal Aid Cell started with help from the India Vision Foundation, Lawyers for Social Action and local advocates. Free legal help is given to Bangladeshi and Pakistani prisoners as well. He also got the cooperation of the District and Sessions Judge, Amritsar.
Three types of prisoners were helped to get release orders: those arrested for petty offences who had already served time in prison and whose trial was still going on, those arrested in connection with excise cases and those against whom the police had not filed any charge sheet within the stipulated period.
The departure of 350 prisoners created more room. Instead of sleeping on the cold hard floor, for the first time, cots are being provided to prisoners. These are made in the jail premises and have been given to women inmates. Efforts are on to improve infrastructure.
Committees of prisoners make sure food is of good quality, is distributed fairly and cooked hygienically. Corruption has been weeded out.
The jail also provides inmates an alternative career so that they can contribute to society and don’t need to turn to crime.
The jail's education centre was started in May this year and inaugurated by Kiran Bedi. The Guru Nanak Dev University offers certificate courses in computer basics, TV maintenance and tailoring. The university has financed a computer lab. SP Singh, vice-chancellor of GNDU, visited the prison and took a decision to link the university to it. "He has shown what a university can do," says Kiran Bedi.
Prisoners run the education centre. The Principal is an undertrial with a Ph.D. There are five faculties: higher education, adult education, school education, languages and computer education. Educated inmates run the courses.
Inmates can study for graduate and post-graduate courses. IGNOU has also set up a centre in the prison and a library has been started. Seven hundred students have enrolled.
None of the children were going to school when Vijay Pratap took over. A government school was identified and the children are sent there. Some jail officials objected, saying it's not in our rule- books. Vijay Pratap asked them where is it written that children should not be sent?
There is also a crèche for the children. Women are taught candle-making, tie and dye etc. To improve the mind and relieve mental stress there is yoga and meditation every morning and sports in the evening. Some 40 prisoners have become yoga teachers.
Also, a de-addiction centre has been started. Drug abuse was rampant among inmates. All those involved in selling and distributing drugs, including jail officials, medical staff and prisoners were rounded up. They were transferred and FIRs lodged against some. The de-addiction centre is being run with help from the Civil Defence and Rotary Club in Amritsar.
The prisoners have a say. There are complaints and suggestion boxes near the Gurdwara and temple inside the jail. The boxes are opened either by Vijay Pratap or his assistant. Prisoners can meet the DIG during office hours.
The prisoners were very moved when the Brahma Kumaris visited the jail and prayed for their long life and happiness. The Brahma Kumaris tied rakhis on their wrists and on Bangladeshi and Pakistani prisoners as well.
"It is possible to do your job honestly and truthfully in this profession," says Vijay Pratap, an MA in Sanskrit from Patna. "though to tread this path is like walking on the edge of a sharp sword." (http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/news_details.asp?news_id=193)
Breaking free to reform
The Tribune, Saturday, December 30, 2006 Reeta Sharma Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh: Man behind the model jail in Amritsar THANKS to the lack of planning by the bureaucracy, our villages are still light years away from being self-sufficient abodes. However, in the backdrop of this grim scenario, we do come across a few bureaucrats who keep us away from pessimism and defeatism. Allow me to introduce one such bureaucrat in Punjab. Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, an IPS officer, is often ridiculed for being cynical. And why not, as he is always swimming against the tide. Whichever posting was given to him, he always took it up with zeal and with the spirit of a crusader. It was he who unearthed the kidney scam in Punjab. He fought against the system which was protecting the guilty. The kidney scam reached the courts only because of his relentless efforts. Currently, he is posted as DIG-cum-Superintendent of Amritsar Central Jail. It is for the first time that this jail is being termed as a model jail. And the entire credit goes to the efforts made by this young officer. A jail which was plagued by groupism and unionism amongst the staff, anarchy among prisoners and chaos at large is today being talked about as the first model jail of Punjab. Vijay Pratap has displayed a fresh perspective in handling prisoners. He has initiated various steps for the overall welfare of the prisoners. Right from educating them to the fair handling of their cases, imparting them vocational training and taking care of their mental health, he has worked on all aspects. He set up a legal aid cell to provide free legal aid to poor prisoners who have been languishing in the jail for years for facing charges of petty crime. This resulted in the release of 350 prisoners within a year. In this effort, many NGOs as well as lawyers joined hands with him. Again, it is for the first time that this bureaucrat succeeded in roping in Guru Nanak Dev University to open an educational centre on the jail campus. It also goes to the credit of the Vice-Chancellor, S.P. Singh, who has taken personal interest in this centre, which will impart free vocational education to prisoners. The centre was inaugurated by Kiran Bedi. The vocational courses include dress designing, fabric designing, television maintenance, tailoring and cutting, computer and electronics training. In addition, the illiterate prisoners will also benefit from the recently launched literacy campaign.
Prisoners working on computers is a reality in Amritsar Jail, thanks to State Bank of India which donated five computers in addition to the 15 installed by Guru Nanak Dev University. Qualified teachers are training prisoners in computers. The university is running certificate courses at the centre. Vijay Pratap got a portion of the jail converted into a school block, which now has five classrooms, one library, computer lab and a teachers’ room. Interestingly, the principal of the school is a qualified PhD under trial. It is common knowledge that a majority of the jails in the country are a hub of drug trafficking. The end result is that a large number of prisoners end up as drug addicts. This was the case with the Amritsar jail too. However, Vijay Pratap took this challenge head-on. He identified drug suppliers, corrupt officials and even members of the medical staff who were involved in this racket. He took multi-pronged action to tackle this menace. To break the nexus, he not only transferred the guilty but also registered cases against them. Effective supervision checked the supply and intake of drugs. Vijay Pratap also set up a de-addiction centre within the jail with the co-operation of the Civil Defence and Rotary Club, Amritsar. Within a year more than 100 hardcore addicts have been cured of drug addiction. Incidentally, this is the first de-Addiction centre in any Punjab jail. Yoga and meditation have also been introduced in the jail, the classes for which are being run by the Chaturvidh Yoga Ashram in the city. The initiatives taken by him within Amritsar jail have got him an award from Indian Vision Foundation, an NGO founded by Kiran Bedi. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061230/saturday/stamped.htm)