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26 August, 2011

Reforms: Proof of the pudding is in the eating

Watching Kiran Bedi’s performance in front of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan, venue of Anna Hazare’s fast, this evening on television, I wondered whether we had not lost the best artiste of our time when she opted for the police force instead of the theatre.

She, of course, won acclaim in her chosen field. Her personal website presents her as “First and Highest ranking Indian Woman, Internationally Recognized, of the Indian Police Service”

She was Inspector General of Prisons, Tihar Jail, for two years from 1993 to 1995 and is credited with having converted the high security prison, with over 9,700 inmates, into a Reformatory. It was, says the website, “a transformation of a magnitude unparalleled in the history of Prison Administration anywhere in the world”.

Her fame as a reformer spread around the world so fast that in 1994, while she was still at Tihar, the US-funded Ramon Magsaysay Foundation picked her for its prestigious award, which is sometimes referred to as the Asian Nobel.

In a short note reproduced at the website, Sarita Chauhan quotes Bedi as saying, “I was there to correct not accuse. The magnitude of the problem was enormous. It took me months. Institutions take their time to reveal despite individual impatience”.

Apparently, Bedi, who left the IPS in 2007, has already forgotten the lesson she learnt at Tihar that institutions take their time. She was heard asking Parliament to accept Anna’s demands today itself, if necessary by sitting at night, as it has done on some occasions in the past.

How effective was the Tihar reform which won Kiran Bedi accolades and awards? In July 1995, barely two months after she moved out of there, Rajan Pillai, a prominent Indian businessman with international links, died following ill-treatment while in judicial custody there.

Kerala-born Rajan Pillai, widely known as Biscuit King as he controlled snacks major Britannia Industries from his base in Singapore, was arrested in Delhi in connection with an extradition case. There were reports at the time that he did not receive timely medical attention as he did not meet the demands of corrupt jail officials.

In May this year, the Delhi High Court ruled that Rajan Pillai had died because of lack of medical care and awarded a "token" compensation of Rs 1 million to his wife, Nina, who had been fighting for justice for her late husband for 16 years.

Justice S. Muralidhar, in his order, held the state liable for the lapses at Tihar which had led to Rajan Pillai’s death. He asked the Tihar authorities to take corrective measures to improve the minimum standard of treatment and care for its inmates. He said Pillai's death could have been avoided if the board of visitors (experts) of the jail had conducted frequent checks.

The judge directed Tihar jail to purchase an ambulance comparable with the best available in the country and to build a team of dedicated medical personnel and trained staff within a period of three months.

In an affidavit filed in the court during the proceedings, the Tihar authorities had acknowledged that 32 of 110 sanctioned posts of medical personnel were lying vacant.

Apparently Kiran Bedi who introduced Art of Living courses in the jail had neglected the science of living.

Anna Hazare, who, like Kiran Bedi, is a Magsaysay Award winner, may well earn the Nobel Prize this year for shaking up the Indian polity through a peaceful movement.

Let us hope what the movement yields is not half-baked reform of the kind Kiran Bedi carried out in Tihar. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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