The only place where the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes are still in circulation is inside the jails in Bengal. The banned denominations are still in vogue in the parallel markets in jails.
Convicts and undertrials are recharging their SIM cards, buying narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes, fish, meat and vegetables for their gratification in defiance of jail regulations using the banned notes.
The larger denominations were banned from Tuesday midnight after the Prime Minister’s address to the nation. Thereafter, chaos ruled the streets of Bengal.
Though the raids are on, jail officials said that they believe sooner or later the money will be purged and will concentrate on tightening security to ensure that the new notes do not enter the correctional homes.
“The move has caught the convicts and undertrials unawares. But narcotics and other items are being bought and sold inside, many with Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 notes. There is an illegal parallel economy running behind bars which is still using these notes. But we expect that slowly these notes will be sent out of the jail for exchange,” said a senior Alipore jail official.
“The banned denominations are still being used illegally inside. We have increased surprise raids in the jails. But our stress is on not allowing fresh money inside once again,” said the officer.
Convicts in high security central jails be it Presidency, Alipore or Dum Dum buy essential food and grocery items illegally. These commodities are smuggled out of the huge stockpile of food items, meat, fish and vegetables, which are brought into the jail for the consumption of the inmates.
Though inmates get cooked food from the jail, both the quality and quantity are so poor that a large section of undertrials and convicts actually spend their own money to buy foodstuff and cook it themselves in their cells with illegal heaters.
Items such as cigarettes, ganja, heroin and alcohol are also sold and bought inside the prisons, at a premium rate. Convicts also buy cell phones, SIM cards and regularly recharge them inside. All this is done in connivance with a section of jail staff.
The jail authorities of Bengal are also trying hard to cope with the crunch of new notes.
Convicts get Rs 26 (non-skilled), Rs 30 (semi-skilled) and Rs 35 (skilled) daily wages for hard work behind bars. Convicts do gardening, furniture making, tailoring, make jute products and other items in the different jails.
“Fifty per cent of the wages are to be handed over to the families of the convicts. We are offering them banned notes or asking them to wait. In the last couple of days, many of them have accepted banned notes,” said an officer of Alipore central jail.
The jail canteen in three central jails in Kolkata, which offer snacks and other items to inmates, are finding few takers. Since jail authorities are not accepting banned notes from the relatives of convicts, they cannot issue canteen coupons to inmates.
The system involves money deposited by relatives with jail authorities who issue coupons to convicts to buy snacks and other items from the canteen.