Mumbai: Arthur Road Jail Among The Best

Mumbai Central Jail Arthur Road
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By Subroto Roy

Pune, 11th July 2021: Given that high profile fugitives like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi are facing deportation from foreign lands back into India to face trials, we take a birds-eye view of India’s most talked about jail… the Mumbai Central Prison, popularly known as Arthur Road Jail (ARJ).

ARJ is among the most secure jails India has because it had safely confined and catalysed the successful interrogation of modern India’s worst tormentor- the Pakistani Lashkar terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab before sending him to Pune’s Yerwada prison on November 19, 2012, to be hanged two days later. It was not just Kasab who lost the battle, but also the fake human rights activists, and sympathetic media which even today call him ‘militant’.

While post-event policing won, I think prison management has also scored a great victory, a complex battle the media often misses to note and reiterate.

Well! Managing a prison is a complex matter, with each decision threatened by a potential crime, animosity amongst inmates, legal compliances and complexities, and to top it all, fake ‘Human Rights’ activism meant only by criminals.

Yet, it is a fact that surveys enlisting 15-30 worst prisons of the world including the US, China, Russia, among other countries, but not India. A listing published recently gives the following order of worst 30 jails in the world in which Indian jails and especially the ARJ does not figure in it:[1]

 01 Venezuela, La Sabaneta Prison

02 Russia, Black Dolphin Prison

03 Rwanda, Gitarama Central Prison

04 North Korea, Camp 22

05 Tbilisi, Georgia Gldani Prison

06 Lima, Peru San Juan de Lurigancho

07 Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Black Beach Prison

08 Kenya, Nairobi Prison

09 Russia, Butyrka Prison

10 Turkey, Diyarbakir Prison

11 Venezuela, El Rodeo Prison

12 El Salvador, Penal de Ciudad Barrios Prison

13 Argentina, Mendoza Prison

14 New York, Rikers Island

15 Syria, Tadmor Military Prison

16 Paris, France, La Santé Prison

17 Colorado, United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility

18 São Paulo, Brazil, Carandiru Penitentiary

19 Nairobi, Kenya, Kamiti Maximum Security Prison

20 Vologda, Russia, Pyatak Prison

21 California, San Quentin State Prison

22 New York, Attica Correctional Facility

23 Argentina, Mendoza Prison

24 California, Pelican Bay State Prison

25 Thailand, Bang Kwang Prison

26 Tibet, Drapchi Prison

27 Cuba, Guantanamo Bay Prison

28 California, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

29 Mississippi, Parchman Farm State Penitentiary

30 Arizona, Tent City or Maricopa County Prison

Importantly, Maharashtra jails do not figure in the top seven most populated jails in the country according to the latest union government’s e-prisons data. The state houses the largest number of jails in the country (150 as per 2014 NCRB figures) and the second-largest number of Central Prisons after Madhya Pradesh.

With a total of 3288 inmates, the ARJ only appears overcrowded. It has the largest number of inmates among jails in the state, but a majority of them- 2995 under trial and merely 30 are convicts according to the latest jail figures supplied by the media cell of ARC. The release rate is also arguably high because among the inmates a considerable number do not face serious charges.

However, due to the Supreme Court’s intervention to a sou motu petition considering the second wave of Covid 19 pandemic, decongestion has now taken place.

This is a sign of an active society and aware citizens and a healthy democratic system that exists in the country. Today the Jails in India are being decongested considering the second Covid-19 wave. The Supreme Court ruled on the 7th of this May as follows:


“All the State Governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498-A IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest

parameters laid down above towing 41 CrPC…;”


So much so, that the entire high profile ARJ was Covid free as of June 1, 2021, according to the ‘Covid 19 Report’ published by the Maharashtra Prison Department, Ministry of Home, Government of Maharashtra. Prevention of congestion is also being ensured by the apex court by ordering magistrates not to “authorise mention casually and mechanically”.

The state’s ARJ stands rather tall even among the central jails of Maharashtra in terms of prison conditions. High profile and high-risk prisoners are expected to be lodged in the jail making the job of the department all the trickier because they not only have to ensure better conditions but also enhance security measures. Such individuals are at a high risk anywhere.

Former Chief of Maharashtra Prisons (2012-15), Meeran Chadha Borwankar cautions while talking to this journalist that even in jail, the safety and security of high-risk prisoners are top priority for the authorities. It is natural that central jails like ARJ cannot keep any stone unturned to ensure this.

It is public knowledge now that barrack number 12 in the jail slated to lodge fugitive Nirav Modi, is a 300 sft. cell and now is a well-equipped apartment with fresh soothing white colour painting, French windows for ventilation and view, toilet and shower. The cell has been maintained since 2019 by the jail authorities expecting fugitive Modi’s extradition by the UK. This shows the sincerity of authorities in terms of a paradigm shift in the perspective of crime and its treatment.

It is also heartening that jails in India today have risen much above inhuman colonial British traditions of “confinement and punishment” Borwankar points out. Also, the brighter side of this is also that pure concerns of “human rights and justice go hand in hand”, stresses Borwankar.

Undertrial and convicted prisoners cannot expect better treatment.

Despite human resource crunch, good officers make Indian jails and the police system more responsive and responsible. “By providing honest and transparent leadership, I did my bit,” Borwankar says while talking specifically about ARJ which has confined extremely dreaded criminals and terrorists, among others.

It is this justice that had trapped a former superintendent of the jail under the Anti Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) net with “huge cash”, Borwankar recalls. She recommends that to further strengthen justice within, “ACB cases must be tried within a year”, to “send a strong message down the prison administration”, which would lead to “tremendous improvement in honesty and transparency”.

Challenges are part of jail management across the globe. ARJ is overcrowded and staff crunch has always been an issue. “Participation of educational institutions and civil society will go a long way in further improving jails in India,” Borwankar says. This is exactly what has already happened in the recent past not only due to legislative action but also due to an aware citizenry in India.

But these improvements must be seen as a process that has been on over a period of time. In other words, the improvement has not happened overnight and has been a collective effort of all concerned at different times.

There was a time just a decade and a half back when prisons were in very bad shape and officers had to expend a lot of energy to maintain them both physically and discipline wise. But things have drastically changed today.

S B Sawarkar who served as IG Prisons when another high profile criminal, Abdul Karim Telgi was lodged in the ARJ when contacted, reminisced that there was a “severe paucity of manpower”. A balance had to be struck between human rights of the inmates and their propensity for crime according to him. “Much water has flown under the bridge in the last 14-15 years.

“Yet we were criticised for one or the other reason,” he adds. “We had to handle situations arising our of jailed police officers, VIPs, criminal gangs, and notorious criminals at the same time,” he recalls. According to him, this is a very different kind of policing and needs special skill-sets to manage jails.

“Digitisation has helped,” says Borwankar.

(The writer has been an investigative journalist, based in Pune.)

  [1] Aleah, Jan 11, 20121. Worst Prisons of The World. Accessed on 10.07.2021 from