Answers given to RTI queries raised by a Bengaluru-based RTI activist and advocate have revealed that the Chitradurga District Prison has allowed more visitors than the number allowed by the prison manual to meet the jailed chief pontiff of Murugha Matha – Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru.
He is currently in prison awaiting trial after having been booked in two cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and for the rape of six minor girls at the matha over a period of two-three years.
RTI activist T Narasimhamurthy on 8 September sought details of the number of visitors who visited the Lingayat seer in the prison campus from when he was first jailed till the disposal of the RTI application. He also asked for the date and time the visitors arrived and when they left.
Additionally, he also sought each visitor’s full name, detailed address, designation, mobile number, and relationship with the seer.
However, when the reply for the RTI came to him within four days, it had only one visitor on it: Mahanta Rudra Swamy.
Narasimhamurthy’s office then filed another RTI application seeking certified copies of the prison-dairy extracts with the visitors’ names and details.
On 2 October, his office received the reply to the RTI queries. The reply said that from 7 September until 29 September 29, which is 23 days, Shivamurthy Sharanaru received around 20 visitors.
According to the RTI activist, this was a brazen violation of the Karnataka prison manual, which allows only one visitor along with a legal advisor once every fortnight.
Narasimhamurthy pointed out the guidelines in the manual and alleged that the Chitradurga prison officials were offering VIP treatment to the rape-accused seer since he was a high-profile prisoner.
Mandatory instructions of the prison manual were being flouted by providing preferential treatment to the seer — treatment that is denied to common prisoners, he said.
Narasimhamurthy has now filed a complaint regarding this with the DGP (Prisons) Alok Mohan with courtesy copies sent to the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, the state home minister, and the Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG&IGP).
Not all details given?
Narasimhamurthy told South First that the prison officials did not furnish all the information he sought.
“The addresses, contact numbers, and visitors’ time of arrival, along with their relationship with the seer, were not furnished to us, because the authorities considered personal details. They (jail authorities) also asked the seer if it is okay to divulge the information that I had sought, to which the seer objected and told the jail authorities not to divulge or furnish any information,” he alleged.
However, the jail authority gave out 20 visitors’ names, which showed that one H Anandappa had visited the seer thrice, while a certain Patil Shivakumar visited the seer twice.
Among the other 18 visitors, most were seers from various mathas, while some others were administrative staff from the Murugha Matha in Chitradurga, who visited the seer once: 12 September.
Section 591 of The Karnataka Prisons And Correctional Services Manual 2021 talks about the number of persons at an interview. The number of persons permitted to be present at an interview shall not ordinarily exceed five; but in the case of close family and relatives of a prisoner, the number may be extended to six: husband, wife, father, mother children, brothers, sisters. Children below six years are excluded from the number.
According to the jail authorities, the seer was allowed an interview with four people on 12 September, five people on 15 September, three people on 19 September, four people on 27 September, and three on 29 September.
Narasimhamurthy alleged that they could have furnished the time of visit, as well as other details — such as addresses and mobile numbers of the visitors — but they did not furnish those details because the seer forbade them, which was against law.
“A prison diary is a public document, and anyone can apply for its certified extracts under the RTI Act,” he said.
“The jail authorities resorted to such tactics to allow such preferential treatment to certain prisoners,” he claimed, adding that the prison department similarly violated the rules for the likes of AIADMK leader VK Sasikala, former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, Youth Congress leader Nalapad Haris.
Jail authorities deny violations took place
When South First contacted the Chitradurga District Prisons, Jail Superintendent Mahadevi said everything happened according to the rules, and reports had been submitted in this regard to the higher-ups.
“We are not even considering the seer a special-category prisoner. We are treating him as a normal-category one,” she said.
“Between 7 and 29 September, interviews were allowed for the seer. One jailor has been deployed as an interview jailor for the seer. Everything at the jail is in accordance with the Karnataka Prison Manual rules and regulations,” she added.
DGP Prisons Alok Mohan told South First: “We believe everything is being done according to the law, and if anyone has erred, they will face action.”