A handful of guards — around 30, or fewer than that — helped by jailed convicts, were responsible for guarding the 3,000 plus inmates of the Bhopal Central Jail from which eight SIMI activists fled before being gunned down by security personnel within 10 hours of the jailbreak.

Senior jail officials, who spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said that of the 180-190 guards assigned for duty at the Bhopal central prison, less than 50% of them were ever present on the premises that are spread over 51 acres, as the rest of them were reporting for the personal duty of ministers and senior babus.

To cover up for the guards who were absent from their duty, the jail management was forced to use the “less hardcore prisoners” to guard the “hardcore” prisoners, like the SIMI activists.

More disturbing is the fact that senior officials at the police headquarters were very well aware of these serious lapses, but chose to keep quiet.

“Out of this 180, only 80-90 guards come to duty, the rest of them come once a month to mark their attendance for the month. Even among the 80-85 who come, they work in three shifts, which means that fewer than 30-40 guards at any given time are guarding the 3,000 inmates.

Due to this huge deficit, the prison management was forced to use prisoners who were assigned the job of guarding the more “hardcore” prisoners.

If you take this into account and the paltry number of guards, you can easily make out how the SIMI prisoners managed to escape so easily in the present case,” a senior prison official said.

According to the official, correspondence by multiple officials, who are directly or indirectly related to the Bhopal prison, detailing the lapses of the Bhopal Central Jail, was sent to the state government and the police headquarters, the National Security Advisor’s office and the office of the Director Intelligence Bureau, but the correspondence was forwarded from one authority to the other until they were lost in the files.

“One such correspondence was sent to the senior officials way back in 2014 and successive state prison ministers were also apprised of the issues, but as you can make out, nothing was ever done,” the official confided.

The prison officials say that almost half of the officials who were assigned duties in the Bhopal prison were working at the residences of ministers, senior IPS and IAS officials or as a part of their personal staff. “Almost half of the staff was unofficially attached with the ministers, senior IPS and IAS officials who used them as their orderlies and house help,” the official said.

A shaken MP government, in an attempt to do damage control following the jailbreak, on Wednesday night, brought in 46 officials of various ranks, including three deputy jailors from various parts of the state, and posted them in the Bhopal Ccentral Jail.

As per official data, 24 prisoners have escaped from prison or from the custody of prison officials in Madhya Pradesh in 2014. The state has 123 jails, the third highest after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

However, despite having a sanctioned staff strength of 5,642 officials, the number of staff actually working is just 4,139, which means that one jail official has to look after nine jail inmates. At the end of 2014, jails in MP had 36,433 prison inmates, whereas they only have a capacity to house 27,247 prisoners, who are being managed with the help of 815 walkie talkies, 283 CCTV cameras and 704 metal detectors.

As per rule, prisoners sentenced to imprisonment for a longer period (over two years) are confined in central jails and Madhya Pradesh had the highest number of 11 central jails.