“Aami cell e dhukbo? (Will I have to enter the cell?)” A visibly upset and bemused Jyoti Priya Mallick said when he was brought to Presidency Correctional Home in Kolkata on Diwali night on November 12.
Mallick, who is the Forest Minister in the TMC government in West Bengal, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the alleged irregularities in the public distribution system (PDS) in the state between 2011 and 2021 when he held the portfolio of Food and Supplies Department.
Since being brought to the ‘Number 7’ of the high security ‘Poila Baiish (1 to 22)’ cell block of the Presidency Correctional Home after the court sent him to judicial custody, 65-year-old Mallick has been staying in a 7 by 5-ft cell with a washbasin, an Anglo-Indian toilet, a fan and a floor bed made of blankets and a bedsheet; and he hardly ventures out.
His neighbours in the Poila Baiish cell block include his former Cabinet colleague Partha Chatterjee, party MLA Manik Bhattacharya, former president of West Bengal Board of Primary Education Jiban Krishna Saha, real estate developer and film producer Ayan Sil — all the four have been arrested by the central agencies in school jobs scam case – and Aftab Ansari, the mastermind of American Centre attack.
Mallick, who clearly did not like to be kept in a cell, was told that all high-security inmates are being kept in this cell block that has round-the-clock CCTV surveillance, guards, and jail warders.
When told that the cell block is meant for high-profile inmates, and Partha Chatterjee and others are lodged there, Mallick told jail officials: “Amay oder songe ek kore phelben na. (Don’t equate me with them)”.
After officials insisted, Mallick reluctantly entered his cell and then complained about the floor bed made with blankets, sources in the Presidency Correctional Home told The Indian Express.
Before that when jail officials were making a record of his entry, Mallick insisted that ‘MIC (Minister-in-Charge) be written in the column for his “profession”. However, jail authorities made him understand that it cannot be written as a profession. Later, he agreed to put in ‘lawyer’ as his profession.
Apart from his dislike of being kept in a high-security cell, the minister has made repeated requests to the jail authorities to send him to a hospital, claiming that he was “very sick”.
Just after he was brought to the cell, he complained of uneasiness late Sunday night and was taken to the jail hospital at 2 am, only to be sent back to the cell after a check-up by the doctor.
Following his arrest in the wee hours of October 27 after a marathon search at his premises by the ED, Mallick had fainted outside the courtroom soon after he was sent to the custody of the central probe agency. He was taken to a private hospital where he spent a few days and was later discharged.
“He (Mallick) is visibly unhappy. He does not want to stay in the high-security cell. But we are keeping him in accordance with the rules. Since his entry here, he has complained a number of times of being sick, saying that he needs to be admitted to a hospital outside. He has claimed that his left hand may be paralysed soon. However, according to the rules, we have had several health check-ups through jail doctors who pronounced him fit,” said a senior jail department officer.
“On the first night, he had homemade food for dinner. Thereafter, our doctor here made a food chart for him in accordance with the private hospital where he was admitted recently. He (Mallick) has high sugar,” the senior officer added.
As per the diet chart advised by the doctors, he is served tea without sugar (100 ml) after he wakes up, followed by breakfast comprising three chapattis, a cup of dal, and a cup of cooked vegetables. The mid-morning meal comprises 100 ml of dal soup, two biscuits, and 200 ml of milk. For lunch, he is given three chapattis or one-and-half cups of rice with a cup of mixed vegetables, two cups of boiled vegetables, and one piece of egg white or 50 gm of fish or 50 ml of curd. In the afternoon, he is served fruits, tea without sugar, and three biscuits followed by dinner which is the same as what he is served for lunch.
According to sources inside the jail, Mallick is yet to step out of his cell — inmates are allowed to walk inside the secured cell block for some time. He spends most of his time either sitting on the floor bed or lying down, they said.