ITAHARI, Nov 10: Twelve inmates, including one Bangladeshi and two Indians, have escaped from a jail in Sunsari district by digging an 80-foot tunnel.
The escapees led by dreaded criminal Ali Asraf Ansari, who is wanted by Interpol, had dug the long tunnel, using tools provided by the jail administration for manufacturing bamboo furniture and dhaka caps.
Though the inmates, who escaped from the Eastern Regional Jail in Jhumka on Thursday night, spent nearly two months digging the tunnel, the jail administration was apparently unaware of what was going on. This has fueled speculation that the authorities connived with the escapees.
Following the jailbreak, the government has suspended jailer Ram Prasad Upadhyay and Inspector Ishwori Basnet. The latter was in charge of the police team deployed for security at the jail.
The government has also formed a high-level team to investigate the conduct of the jail authorities. The Eastern Regional Police Office has formed a separate team to look into the incident. A new police team has now taken command of jail security.
The escapees include Ali Asraf Ansari, Dhirendra Yadav, Bambam Yadav, Subash Kumar Yadav, Safraj Aalam, Faruk Roy, Ramesh Sada, Binayak Kumar Yadav, Rabin Yadav, Jakir Miyan, Mamtaj Miyan and Harish Chandra Jha. Jha was arrested on the charge of forgery and undergoing trial while the rest were convicted criminals.
Ansari, who was convicted for multiple crimes including murder, is believed to have led the jail escape. Although he was likely to be released next year, he broke jail because he may have feared that he would be arrested immediately again on other charges, according to police sources. A Bangladeshi national, Ansari had also obtained a Nepali citizenship certificate.
The Jhumka jail break is believed to be the brainchild of Dhirendra Yadav, who hails from Supaul district in Bihar and was assisted by fellow-Indian Bambam Yadav. The plan was executed by Ansari. As Ansari was appointed leader of the inmates, he easily put the plan into operation under cover of manufacturing bamboo furniture and Nepali caps.
When they were in Saptari jail, Dhirendra and Bambam had jointly terrorized other inmates, causing a series of clashes inside the jail, it is learnt. Later, Dhirendra was transferred to Nakkhu jail in Lalitpur while Bambam was taken to Jhumka jail. One year ago, Dhirendra was also transferred to Jhumka jail. Following their reunion, Dhirendra and Bambam started planning the jailbreak.
Although nine of the escapees are of Nepali origin, most were involved in crimes in India also. They have been charged in cases like murder, kidnapping, women trafficking and drug peddling. It is learn that some of them had houses in India as well.
It is also learnt that the escapees walked all the way to Titarbana in Madhesha VDC, Sunsari before entering India. All the 12 escapees were members of a group inside the jail headed by Ansari and as he appointed only his confidants to a committee set up by the jail administration for internal management, he managed to keep his plans under wraps.
"The jail authorities would not listen to us. They only trusted Ansari," said Ashish Basnet, who is serving a jail term at Jhumka prison. "He took advantage of the undue trust placed in him by the jail administration."
According to Tara Nepal, another inmate at Jhumka, the point from where the escapees started digging the tunnel was closely guarded by Ansari and his confidants. "They used to manufacture bamboo furniture there," Nepal said. "They would not let us go there. They used that place to dig the tunnel."
Ansari, who hired other inmates to make bamboo tables, chairs and stools on daily wages, had built an elevated structure purportedly for keeping the manufacturing tools atop it. As the structure was hollow, the inmates easily dug the tunnel through it. Earth removed from the tunnel was thrown into a pond inside the prison compound. Although the tunnel ended within the outer compound of the jail, security personnel deployed in and around the jail did not see the prisoners fleeing.
The day after the jail break, all 46 policemen led by Inspector Basnet were suspended along with jailer Upadhyay. Those suspended include one sub-inspector, three assistant sub-inspectors, six constables and 35 other police. Only three peons at the jail escaped suspension. The new security team at Jhumka jail is headed by Inspector Sailesh Thapa.
The probe team led by Shambhu Koirala, Director General of Department of Prison Management, has police DIG Gopal Bhandari and under secretary Sagar Mani Parajuli has members. Koirala said his team will start investigations from Saturday. Another probe is led by SSP Ramesh Phunyal.
Although suspended jailer Upadhyay has tried to defend himself, citing power outage and shortage of policemen, Chief District Officer (CDO) of Sunsari Laxman Bahadur Basnet and Sunsari District police chief SP Saurav Rana both point to the administration´s negligence. "The tunnel was not dug overnight," said CDO Basnet. "Even though it was being dug for weeks, the jail administration remained ignorant. It shows the administration´s sheer negligence."
Similarly, SP Rana said, “Our policemen did not see the inmates digging the tunnel. It was their negligence.” He also hinted at the possibility that the police helped with the escape. “There could be other reasons. We´ll look into those also,” he said. According to him, six special teams have been deployed along the India-Nepal border to nab the escapees.