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Sleep in prison, work outside

- Tihar launches old-age home

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Professional status: Employed. Current residence: Tihar Jail.

Asia’s biggest prison has decided to allow “well-behaved” convicts to work outside the jail complex, though the inmates selected for what would be the country’s first “open jail” rehab plan would have to return at night.

There was something for elderly convicts, too. Tihar director-general Vimla Mehra today said the prison authorities would set up an old-age home for inmates who are 60 or above “to take better care of them”.

The twin decisions came months after the jail hit headlines as the country’s hottest slimming centre, courtesy a free “weight-loss” programme.

Former telecom minister A. Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi, who both spent time in the jail for alleged involvement in the spectrum controversy, can vouch for the programme’s efficacy. Both lost 5 kilos.

The jail also has a beauty parlour, a favourite with women inmates.

While the jail authorities are planning to set up salons for male prisoners too, the focus now is more on rehab than tone-up.

The open jail, the country’s first such facility, will allow convicts who have not violated the prison manual to work outside the Tihar complex. “This is part of the rehab plan and lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung gave his nod a few days ago. Well-behaved inmates will be selected to leave the prison walls to work outside for a stipulated period every day and return to their cells at night,” said Sunil Gupta, Tihar’s law officer.

The plan does not cover those convicted of offences against the state and undertrials, who account for 75 per cent of the jail’s 13,552 inmates. The undertrials — and those not selected to step outside — will have to continue working at the jail factory and bakery. Also, only those convicts who have served at least 10 years will be eligible to work outside.

No such condition has been set for the elderly convicts. “We have launched an old-age-home facility for elderly prisoners aged 60 years and more inside the jail premises for both men and women. Those who fall under this category will be segregated and kept in a separate barracks to take better care of them,” Mehra, the jail’s director-general, said.

Some young inmates, she said, will share the same barracks to cater to the day-to-day needs of these elderly inmates, some of whom are terminally ill. “The elderly inmates will be shifted to jail No. 1, which has a hospital, so that medical care could be provided to them immediately,” Mehra said.

While the jail plans to keep an eye on the health of inmates, some high-profile accused can vouch that they emerged healthier, even “stronger”.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, former BJP adviser and an accused in the cash-for-vote scam, lost 12kg during his 52-day stay in Tihar.

“I learnt to live with less in Tihar. After a disciplined regime of frugal eating, yoga, pranayam and lots and lots of brisk walk, one of my biggest gains in Tihar was that I lost 12kg. I felt stronger, both physically and mentally, than ever before,” he wrote after being released on bail.

Kulkarni referred to Tihar as an “ashram” where his faith in God became more “robust”.

Jail officials said a disciplined and simple lifestyle was a sure-shot recipe for weight loss. Inmates wake up at 5am, breakfast is at 7 and lunch is between 11 and noon. Dinner is served early at 6.30pm. The inmates are locked up again by 7pm.

Early to bed and early to rise did help Shahid Usman Balwa, one of the richest Indians to be featured in Forbes magazine. Balwa, an accused in the 2G case, lost 4.5kg, though the “biggest losers” were Reliance colleagues Gautam Doshi and Surendra Pipara — both accused in the case.

Pipara, who used to weigh almost 90kg, lost 20kg. Doshi lost 8kg. Pune MP Suresh Kalmadi, an accused in the CWG scam, lost 6kg during his 270-day stay.

The beauty parlour opened last year in the women’s ward. The services offered include facials, threading, pedicures and manicures.