Yerawada Central Prison had been constructed in 1866, and is now the largest prison in Maharashtra.
Yerawada Prison has also witnessed Mahatma Gandhi as an inmate thrice. (Image: IE/Pavan Khengre)
Jail tourism: Maharashtra’s largest jai thrown open to tourists! As India was celebrating the 72nd Republic Day, Maharashtra decided to take its tourism to the next level. The state’s Prison Department on Tuesday launched its jail tourism initiative, and initially, it has opened the doors of Pune’s Yerawada Prison, the largest jail in the state, for tourists, according to a report in IE. The jail is not only the largest one, but it is more than 150 years old and therefore has a rich history, including one related to the struggle for Independence.
Historical significance of the Yerawada Prison
Yerawada Central Prison had been constructed in 1866, and is now the largest prison in Maharashtra. It is also one of the largest maximum security jails in India and at the moment, it has an inmate population of about 5,000. During the struggle for Independence, several leaders had been imprisoned in this jail, which has a premise of 500 acres and has a women’s jail and maximum security open jail, as well.
Yerawada Prison has also witnessed Mahatma Gandhi as an inmate thrice. The report, citing prison records, said that the Father of the Nation had been incarcerated in Yerawada Prison from March 1922 to February 1924, then again from January 1932 to May 1933 and for the last time in August 1933, when he was an inmate for three days.
Mahatma Gandhi was not the only leader to have been imprisoned here. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sarojini Naidu, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were also incarcerated in this jail. Moreover, Iron Man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had been imprisoned here twice. The barracks where these leaders had been imprisoned have now been preserved, and the cell where Gandhi was lodged is known as the Gandhi Yard. The Gandhi Yard is also the place for the signing of the Poona Pact between him and Dr BR Ambedkar.
Maharashtra has a total of 16 functioning prisons dating back to the 19th century, and the oldest among these is Mumbai’s Byculla District Prison from 1840. Many of these prisons had been used to lodge leaders of the Indian Independence struggle, and they would also be subsequently added to the jail tourism initiative, the report said. This would however be done in a phased manner.
Jail tourism initiative of Maharashtra explained
The tourists will get a tour of two historic groups of cells known as Gandhi Yard and Tilak Yard, and these groups of cells do not house any inmate. Apart from this, the tourists will also get a tour of faasi yard, which is where executions are carried out in the prison. Chapekar brothers, who had assassinated WC Rand, Pune’s British Plague Commissioner, had been executed here in 1899. Moreover, the most recent execution that the faasi yard in the prison had witnessed was in November 2012, when the 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab was hanged, after which he was buried inside prison premises itself.
However, the prison officials are also aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping in mind the safety concerns, have decided to allow only 50 tourists a day in the beginning. To avoid any confusion, the prison is currently only allowing groups from schools, colleges and registered organisations to visit, for which they would have to send an application to the prison superintendent a week in advance.
Under the scheme, however, researchers who are working on prison or issues related to it cannot visit, and all visitors would be allowed to enter only after a thorough identity verification. Tourists would not be allowed to carry eatables or any electronic devices.
Apart from this, the detailed SOP regarding these visits has been uploaded on the website of the state’s prison department. While there would be no entry fee initially, subsequently, the department would charge a nominal fee.
Interaction with inmates or visiting places not covered under the tour would not be allowed, and photography/videography would only be done by prison staff. Images taken at select spots would be provided to the visitors.
The prison is maximum security and therefore houses high-profile inmates – whether undertrial or convicts – and these include people arrested under charges of terrorism, organised crime or extremely violent crimes, with some inmates even being on death row.
The areas where the tour would take place are located close to the entry of the prison, while high-security areas, cells and barracks are near the back, so the officials said that routine guards would be sufficient to take care of any security concerns. Moreover, the prison superintendent has been given the right to deny entry to any person who he deems unsuitable for the visit.