In a first-of-its-kind project in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray launched the State’s jail tourism initiative on Tuesday. The ‘Jail Yatra’, which began with Pune’s 150-year-old Yerwada Jail on the occasion of Republic Day, will eventually be extended to other prisons in the State.
Inaugurating the event via video conferencing on Twitter, Thackeray said, “Just as there have been some movements such as the ‘Jail Bharo Andolan’ in the past, now we will have a ‘Jail Firo Andolan’ (‘jail trip movement’). This ‘Jail Yatra’ is one such new tourism initiative. When the country became independent, the British left some things behind (such as the Yerwada Jail) and we are now putting them to use.”
Highlighting the struggles of freedom fighters such as the Chaphekar brothers, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bal Gangadhar Tilak who had spent time in Yerwada Jail, Thackeray also recalled going to visit his father, the late Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray, at the prison when the latter had been incarcerated in 1969.
The Chief Minister said that the initiative would serve two purposes. “First, all the struggles that freedom fighters who were imprisoned here would be brought to light. Secondly, we can utilise the manpower that the prisoners here at Yerwada represent, especially those who would be released after a relatively short period of time. Such individuals can be reformed so that when they step back into the world outside, they can take the lessons they have learnt at Yerwada along with them and become responsible citizens, instead of carrying the mark of being prisoners for the rest of their lives.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Additional Director General of Prisons Sunil Ramanand had issued a notification which included a standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding the initiative. The SOP stated that students and teachers in educational institutions as well as members of registered social organisations would be eligible as tourists. In order to visit, one needs to apply to the respective jail superintendent at least seven days in advance, following which those officials would decide the date of visit. Visiting hours would be between 12 noon and 3 p.m. and the maximum number of visitors on any given day would be 50.
The notification said that entry would be free of cost for the time being. However, all social distancing measures would remain in place and tourists would not be allowed to interact with any of the prisoners. They would also not be allowed to take any electronic devices or food items into the prison. In case of taking photographs and videos at the historic spots inside the prison, jail officials will appoint prison staff for that purpose to do so on behalf of the tourists, who can then get them for free.