By Sumir Kaul
Srinagar, Feb 18 Investigations into the escape of dreaded Lashker-e-Taiba terrorist Mohammed Naveed Jhatt from a busy hospital has brought to the fore lapses at different stages, especially the failure of the prosecution wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police as well as the state home department over hurriedly issuing orders for transfer of the accused to a central jail here from Kathua in the Jammu region, it has emerged.
Piecing together events before the escape of 22-year-old Jhatt from the SMHS hospital on February 6, it has been found that the accused had moved a habeas corpus petition before a single bench of Jammu and Kashmir High court in Srinagar which ordered his lodging “preferably in a jail in Kashmir division” on November 19, 2016.
After the High court order, the state home department issued a stand alone order dated January 27, 2017 directing for compliance of the direction of the High court and shifting Jhatt, a Pakistani national who infiltrated into the Kashmir valley in 2014 for spreading terrorism, from Kathua jail to the central jail in Srinagar with “immediate effect”.
The order, a copy of which is available with PTI, was issued on behalf of state’s Principal Secretary (Home) by the then Special Secretary Dilshad Shaheen.
A senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, feels that there was an undue haste in the case of Jhatt and explained further that such hardcore terrorists could have been easily booked under the Public Safety Act and lodged again in a jail outside the Kashmir Valley.
“The second course that could have been taken was to challenge the single bench order of the high court and reason out that he (Jhatt) should be kept away from other inmates as he was a highly motivated terrorist,” said the official, who has been dealing with terror-related cases.
The high court order was also not specific about any prison in the Kashmir division and had left it to the government’s to choose an appropriate jail, he said, adding “Jhatt could have been kept at Anantnag prison in South Kashmir which is more secure or at Humhama jail where hardcore terrorists are often kept. The high court was vague about the choice of prison.”
In November last year, a communication marked as “urgent” to Principal Secretary (Home) was sent by the then Director General of Prison S K Mishra, asking him to shift some of the prisoners including Jhatt to a jail in Jammu division and also highlighted the need to segregate them completely from each other.
“In view of inputs received with regard to anti-national activities of the militancy related prisoners lodged in central jail, Srinagar from time to time through police and (security) agencies, there is urgent need to shift these prisoners to the jails in Jammu division in order to segregate them from each other. This will help in preventing the already deteriorating security atmosphere in the Valley and prevent indoctrination of young offenders,” Mishra, a 1985-batch officer who is the seniormost IPS officer of the state, said in his letter.
Mishra, who was shunted to the post of Chairman-cum-Managing Director of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Housing Corporation after the escape of Jhatt, did not answer the phone or messages sent to his mobile phone.
Notwithstanding silence from the state home department, Mishra issued an order for shifting 17 Pakistani nationals accused in cases of terrorism and drug cases to be shifted outside jails in Jammu division but it could not be complied with because of the Home department’s order of January.
Mishra made another attempt in January this year when he shot off another letter, a copy of which is with PTI, to Principal Secretary Home in which he highlighted that presence of Pakistani hardcore terrorists was hampering the smooth functioning of the jails in the Kashmir Valley.
“….The prosecution wing of the police department needs to defend such shifting orders as and when the trial courts desire to lodge them in the Kashmir based jails again.”
“It is, therefore, requested that necessary directions may kindly be issued to prosecution wing of police department to defend the shifting orders of the prisoners before the trial courts,” the letter dated January 13, 2018 said.
Messages to state Home Secretary R K Goyal on his phone remained unanswered.
Jhatt escaped from the SMHS hospital after he was handed over a pistol with which he killed two policemen accompanying him to the hospital. The case is now being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which took over the case from the Jammu and Kashmir police. The central agency has also taken custody of five accused arrested in the case.