It was an unusual sight, with prisoners at Warangal Central Jail packing up all their belongings, bedding, clothes, buckets and pans, to shift home. They looked a rather patient and organised bunch, all neatly dressed in jail clothes and waiting outside the walls for transport to arrive, as though at a railway station.
Once the buses came to take them elsewhere, they carried their meagre belongings, and went in proper queues to board and leave, on what would be a rare outing.
The first batch of 119 inmates including 39 women, moved out, accompanied by heavy security, with escort vehicles and armed policeman. After all, they would travel over three hours. The men had to reach Cherlapally Jail in Hyderabad and the women the special women's prison.
Over the next two weeks, all 966 inmates here, including extremists and political prisoners, will be sent to other jails across Telangana. That is because the 135-year-old Nizam-era jail built on 69 acre is to be vacated within a month and handed over to the health department to build a super-speciality hospital within a year.
Telangana DG (Prisons) Rajiv Trivedi said it is a sensitive operation as nearly 1,000 people have to be shifted elsewhere. "The movement will be sensitive. There will be security issues and concerns. The police have been very cooperative. They gave prisoner escort vehicles, armed escort was also given," Mr Trivedi said.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had taken the decision to convert the jail into a hospital after a visit last month. The cabinet gave the permission on Sunday last.
This jail had the largest number of convicts, over 600 of them, and also undertrials in the state. "For moving undertrials and those on probation, we need to get court permission," the jail authorities said.
Telangana's jails, especially this one, had a lot of industry and enterprise inside as inmates are encouraged to take up economic activity.
"There is a lot of industry here. The carpet looms here are very famous. There is industrial machinery, camera, equipment, electronics, all that we are keeping in safe-keeping to use elsewhere," Mr Trivedi said.
The DG is hopeful that alternate land would be given soon where the plan is to build a "state-of-the-art prison".
"The Chief Minister seeks humane treatment and the facility should be modern. More than punishment, it should be reformation, training, and emphasis on that," Mr Trivedi said.
Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad that has emerged as Telangana's nodal Covid facility was also built on its new campus in 2003, demolishing what was the 88-year-old Musheerabad Jail. The new super-speciality hospital that will come up where the 135-year-old Nizami jail is located, is likely to ease the pressure on Hyderabad's health infrastructure and also cater to the needs of people in the northern Telangana districts.