Collector shuts mobile tower near Yerawada prison, over 19,000 locals affected

Jun 01, 2016, 11:20 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh

Around 19,700 people affected by collector's decision to target illegal towers in Yerawada Central Prison's vicinity

Pune: Around 20,000 citizens have become collateral damage in Yerawada Central Prison authorities’ efforts to plug loopholes within the premises. Suspecting that inmates had managed to slip in mobile phones despite body scanners and frisking in the high-security facility and had found a way to beat their jammers, prison authorities requested the District Collector, Saurabh Rao, to remove one mobile tower in the vicinity.

Yerawada Central Prison
Yerawada Central Prison. File pic

Rao, who is also the head of a constituent body of the prison, directed the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to look into the issue. The civic officials, however, found a number of illegal towers in the vicinity of the jail and cut their wires a week ago.
Since then, citizens within a radius of 4-5 km are barely able to access their networks. People are often seen on their rooftops or walking quite a distance to catch a network signal. When mid-day visited the area yesterday, all networks were down.

Affected residents took out a signature campaign over the last week to convince civic officials to look into the issue.
Affected residents took out a signature campaign over the last week to convince civic officials to look into the issue.

Extent of problem
That the prison authorities had a hand in the issue came to light only after a local corporator Dr Siddharth Dhende, who runs a clinic in the vicinity of the prison, noticed that the problem was widespread. “We were facing poor network coverage for a week. Initially, I thought it was a problem with the service provider, but when more and more complaints about it started pouring in, I realised the extent of the problem. That prompted us to conduct a survey in the ward. Of the 40,000 constituents, nearly 19,700 were affected. We took out a signature campaign and approached the PMC.” It was during discussions with civic officials that they realised that prison authorities had set the ball rolling on the problem.

Letter of discontent
The officials revealed that Yerawada Central Prison’s Superintendent UT Pawar had written a letter to Rao, pointing out that hardened criminals, terrorists, ganglords and Maoists have been lodged in the facility and the presence of mobile towers in the vicinity offered them an opportunity to run their operations from within the premises. In the past, several mobile phones have been recovered from the inmates. Pawar then suggested that one mobile tower in the vicinity be removed as part of stringent security measures.

Rao told mid-day that he directed the PMC to conduct a survey and go only after illegal towers. “Turned out, most of the towers were illegal. The PMC cut their lines. We have no been told that a number of citizens are facing a problem due to this. We have directed errant network providers to pay their dues or the penalty amount and get the issue resolved.” He said the PMC has also been ordered not to clear any more tower in the prison’s vicinity. “We have asked the prison authorities to step up their security and put more jammers.”

Despite repeated attempts, Pawar could not be contacted.

Inspector General of Prisons BK Upadhyay said he was not aware of such a letter having been to the PMC. “The superintendent may have sent this letter with good intentions. He has the power to do so.”

Hoodwinking cops
A senior jail official said the prison has 4,867 inmates, and a staff strength of around 145. “We have jammers in place and frisk prisoners when they enter the facility. Still, some manage to hide their mobile phones from us. That’s why we made the suggestion to the collector that he target mobile towers.” He added that the prison authorities didn’t realise the enormity of their ‘suggestion’.

Residents affected
Shyam Gupta, who runs a cutlery shops in the area, said he had missed a big delivery from his supplier because of the poor network. “I have suffered a huge loss. Even people wanting home deliveries haven’t been able to place their orders through phone calls.” Gopal Swamy Pal, a resident, said his niece tried to check her HSC examination results for a whole day but couldn’t connect to the website. “We can’t even book our LPG cylinder refills and conduct online transactions.”

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