CCTV footage showing convict and politician Sasikala entering Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, Bengaluru in civilian clothes has stirred controversy, reigniting suspicion that she was been meted special treatment by the prison authorities.
In the CCTV footage, Sasikala and Ilavarasi, her relative, each carrying a bag, are seen entering the prison from the main gate in the presence of male guards.
The Superintendent of the Women’s Prison is also seen escorting them into the campus.
The footage has been handed over to the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Karnataka Police by former DIG (Prisons) D Roopa as evidence and part of her statement.
Last month, Roopa alleged special treatment meted out to Sasikala, including exclusive meals and servants within the prison. Roopa was transferred from her position a week later, a move that was universally condemned.
“It has to be investigated where she is coming from,”
The Hindu, which had access to the CCTV footage, spoke with Roopa, who said, “Male guards are not allowed inside the women’s prison complex. Their deployment is outside the women’s prison premises at the main gate … It has to be investigated where she [Sasikala] is coming from and who permitted it … Inside or outside the women’s barrack there is no male guard. So this appears like the main gate of the prison on the road from where anybody enters…I have written this in the report and attached this video, requesting the ACB to check to which camera the footage belongs to and enquire whether they [the convicts] are coming from outside.”
“There is a CCTV camera covering the visitors’ gallery…I don’t think you can find the convict meeting any of her visitors there. I have suggested that the visitors who met Sasikala should also be examined,” she told The Hindu.
Report alleging that Sasikala enjoyed special treatment in jail
Concerns that special treatment has been given to Sasikala, one of Parappana Agrahara’s more recognised inmates, is not new. In April, a Right to Information (RTI) reply revealed that Sasikala was allowed more than her share of visitors and many after the 5 pm deadline.
Roopa paid the prison a surprise visit on July 10 when she discovered serious irregularities.
According to the report by Roopa, Sasikala’s special treatment included an exclusive kitchen for her meals, deputing inmates to cook food for her, flouting of prison norms to suit her schedule, and other discrepancies involving other inmates, including under-trials being deputed to serve prisoners and instances of drug usage.
Roopa’s report alleged that Sasikala and her party members had paid a bribe of about Rs 2 crore to jail officials to secure their special treatment and their silence. And while the report did not directly accuse Rao, it did indicate “speculation” that Mr Rao might have been a beneficiary of the bribe.
Rao, who has also been transferred by the state government, called the allegations in the report “wild and baseless”. He has been transferred only days before his retirement; his new posting has not been disclosed yet.
CM initiates action against Roopa
Amidst the outrage evoked by Roopa’s report, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah ordered an inquiry into the functioning of the central prison.
However, he also warned that action could be taken against Roopa for violating her service rules by going to the media. He told reporters, “It is an administrative process, it is not necessary to disclose everything to the media … We have given her a notice. You don’t have go to the TV all the time if you have documents and evidence, please give. We have no objection regarding corruption and bribery but going to TV and newspapers: that is prohibited. Service rules don’t permit.”
Roopa, however, said that she had not leaked her report, which had been sent to five senior officials in the government.
The senior police officer said she had no axe to grind and if she had anything to hide, “I wouldn’t have taken the step of exposing (irregularities in jail).”
Sasikala’s journey to jail
Jayalalithaa, the late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was involved in a case wherein she was accused of amassing wealth as high as Rs 66 crore disproportionate to her known sources of income between 1991 and 1996. This was the period when she served as Chief Minister for the first term.
The case dragged on for 18 years.
On 27 September 2014, a Special Court convicted all four accused – Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, Sasikala’s niece Ilavarasi and her nephew VN Sudhakaran – and sentenced them to four years simple imprisonment.
In May 2015, the Karnataka High Court overturned the trial court’s verdict and acquitted Jayalalithaa and others of all charges. This paved the way for Jayalalithaa’s return to power as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the 23rd of May, 2015.
Finally, on 14 February 2017, the Supreme Court convicted all four in the case, awarding a four-year jail term to her and her relatives, in addition to imposing a fine of Rs 10 crore each and essentially putting an end to Sasikala’s political ambitions.