Sukesh Ram (name changed), a robbery under-trial lodged in Tihar Jail, offers favours to interested inmates. This includes a supply of banned substances such as tobacco.
In return for the favour, Ram asks for his food coupon — using which inmates buy food items and daily-use consumer goods from in-house jail canteens — in order to encash it for himself as commission.
Ram’s barter system, however, will not work anymore. With the jail authorities’ recent move to replace food coupons with smart cards, which will facilitate electronic mode of payment, the likes of Ram will no longer find it easy to execute illegal transactions inside the jail.
Money of inmates will now be credited in their accounts for use via smart card in their names. “This will end the misuse of food coupons as cash inside the jail, where currencies are banned,” said a jail source who is not authorised to talk to the media.
Sunil Gupta, jail law officer confirmed the introduction of smart cards. “We are providing smart cards to all inmates to stop the abuse of food coupons for illegal activities. There will be an electronic record of each rupee that an inmate spends inside the jail. This will bring transparency in all transactions related to payments and purchases at the 10 in-house canteens,” he said.
The canteens, located inside the 10 sub-jails, offer breakfast and other meals, apart from commodities such as combs, oil, and even under-garments. A team of around 200 trained-convicts handles the canteens.
An inmate is authorised to spend Rs 6,000 per month via a smart card. He can get the money — to be debited into a smart card — from his relatives or acquaintances, who can visit him eight times a month, with each meeting lasting for a maximum of 30 minutes.
The electronic cards have been introduced at a time when an inmate’s access to a canteen has increased by four hours a day. “Till now, an inmate used to get nine hours daily — known as lockout hours — when he could be out of his cell. But recently the hours were increased to 13 hours —from 6am to 7pm,” said another source.
Last year, the jail generated a turnover of Rs 10 crore from the canteens, out of which Rs 1 crore was “profit”, said the source. The profit is invested into the prisoners’ welfare fund.