Tihar jail: Overcrowded, understaffed

Bursting at its seams

Prisoners are line up, who released on good conduct, at Parappana Agrahara in Bengaluru on Monday. Photo / B H Shivakumar

Jails are never meant to be a paradise but democratic conventions provide for minimum dignity for a prisoner while curtailing their liberty and act as an agent of change and reform for convicts so that later they can live in a normal society. Indian jails are nowhere near to this concept and Delhi’s Tihar jail is no exception.

One of Asia’s biggest jails, the Tihar jail is bursting at its seams as at least 151 prisoners share space meant for 100. Official statistics available till December 2017 shows that Tihar held 15,161 prisoners in a space where only 10,026 could be accommodated.

Maintaining these many prisoners itself turns a humongous task when this prison is understaffed. While 3,176 posts are sanctioned, only 1,697 jail personnel are in place, leaving a vacancy of 1,479, which runs into 46.6%. This means there is just one jail personnel for eight prisoners.

Overcrowding coupled with less staff has put more pressure on the jail, which witnessed 19 clashes within its premises in 2017. This was only second to Bihar, which had the dubious distinction of having 35 such incidents.

However, Tihar has the highest number of injured – 75 prisoners and six jail personnel – in such clashes. A senior jail official said the lack of staff has an impact on monitoring and sometimes issues run out of control.

While overcrowding and staff crunch create more trouble for Tihar, all is not that bad there too. Tihar administration tries to provide better healthcare to prisoners, especially to detect HIV positive inmates and start treatment. Prisoners are also referred to various speciality and super speciality hospitals.

Corrective measures

To minimise outside referrals, a system of organising visits of specialist doctors has also started. All inmates, who are reported to be drug addicts, are identified on the very first day of their admission and directly sent to the de-addiction centre.

Tihar inmates also take part in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan regularly.

“We want to keep a high level of sanitation and maintenance of hygiene. Zero levels of garbage is being maintained in all jails because of the daily lifting of garbage,” the official said.

Yoga, meditation and spiritual activities also form an important part of reformation and rehabilitation policy of Tihar Prisons.

Another area where Tihar scores is through its brand ‘Tihar Factory’. In 2017, the products made by the inmates fetched Rs 13.99 crore.

Also, when it comes to providing wages, Tihar tops the list. It pays Rs 361 per day for a skilled prisoner, Rs 328 per day for a semi-skilled prisoner and Rs 297 per day for an unskilled prisoner. It has started the blanket unit, soap unit, artificial flower unit, agarbatti making and fashion designing among others to engage prisoners in a purposeful manner.

In a novel initiative, Tihar jail has
also kickstarted a project to train prisoners in BPO, retail sales, computer hardware, trainee chef, beauty wellness etc. Once the prisoners successfully complete the skill development course, they will be provided with a certificate from the government which will help them in finding a suitable job after their release.

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