An Imphal Free Press investigation into the recent escape of three Myanmar nationals, including a minor, from a temporary detention centre in Churachandpur has revealed serious lapses in the management and security of the said centre.
A government order issued by the deputy secretary (home) on April 1, 2021 declared the premises of Sadbhavana Mandop of New Lamka, Churachandpur district as a temporary prison cum ‘detention centre’ for purposes of housing 29 Myanmar nationals, including six children, till their deportation.
Although it was a government designated detention centre, the Imphal Free Press on January 24 found the centre being run by Zomi Mother’s Association and Zomi Youth Association (CSOs), which claim to be the guardians of the Sadbhavana Mandop on humanitarian grounds.
While the jail staff stationed at the ‘detention centre’ allowed the Imphal Free Press to enter the premises, the members of the ZMA and ZYA denied entry and to bring permission from the Sub-Divisional Officer, Churachandpur.
However, the SDO said that his powers regards the centre has been taken over by IGP Prisons since the escape and he cannot do anything.
There is utter confusion in the number of inmates of the said centre in the records of the government and various agencies.
As per an information provided by the SDO Churachandpur staff, at the detention centre there are a total 52 inmates including six males, 29 females and 17 children, while a report of the Social Welfare department on May 18, 2022 said there were 42 inmates, including nine children.
But, as per report of the Manipur State Legal Services Authority (MASLSA), on March 29, 2022 there were 44 inmates, including 10 children. As per the latest list provided by the home department, there are 45 inmates, excluding two deceased women.
Regarding declaration of a particular premise as temporary prison or detention centre, a judge told the Imphal Free Press that there is a difference between ‘temporary prison’ and ‘detention centre’ as they are governed by different manuals.
The Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act) is a universal Act for all children whether the minor is a foreigner and every minor should be treated under the JJ Act. Besides, there is no definition of a detention centre under the JJ Act.
Records revealed that the JJ Board, Churachandpur had verbally transferred two children, aged 17 and 11 to the Sadbhavana Mandop centre under the custody of the district administration and the court on May, 2022 and one of the minors was among the escapees.
Now, several lapses have come out in the open as to how the Sadbhavna Mandop had been declared a detention centre for foreigners and under which Act or manual. It is also not clear, how the CSOs are allowed to run the said centre and under whose authority they had been designated as guardians.
According to documents accessed by the Imphal Free Press, a team of the Social Welfare department visited the Sadbhavana Mandop on May 18, 2022 and found majority of female inmates appear to be in the early twenties, except a few who appear to be in their thirties.
Their ages have been reportedly recorded on the basis of fake Aadhar cards by the police. The report also stated that there is prima facie that some inmates appear to be minors.
There was also a case where a child from the centre was released earlier to the custody of guardians but there was no specific identity or names or address of the guardians.
The official report also stated that the inmates are earning their livelihood by weaving traditional wrap-around (Phanek) in the community hall of Sadbhavana Mandop, where there are about 20 looms. The inmates manage their food from the earnings and there are no fixed working hours. The weavers reportedly get a daily wage of about Rs 400-500.
“There are three small rooms measuring around 15X15 feet each towards the north of the stairs and three towards the south on the first floor of the mandop. Three rooms each were for the male and female inmates living in the centre”, stated the social welfare report.
There are no segregated spaces for males, females or for children”, said the report.
It is interesting to note that, after the Imphal Free Press visited the Sadbhavna Mandop at Churachandpur and made inquiries as to the legitimacy and validity of the centre on January 24 prison authorities promptly transferred 26 inmates from the centre to Imphal the next day on January 25.
Still, there are few foreigner inmates remaining in the Sadbhavna Mandop.