Tihar leads way in cutting out plastic in jail
At the crack of dawn, just minutes after breakfast, 118 prisoners inside Tihar’s jail No 4 get to work -- in front of their sewing machines.
They are men on the other side of the law and lodged behind bars inside India’s largest prison, but in their own small way have started contributing to the mission to completely phase out single-use plastic by 2022.
For the last 10 months, these prisoners have been stitching jute bags for use across Tihar jail to ensure that no plastic bags are used in the premises, and have started selling them to government departments.
They have already stitched more than 250,000 bags of all sizes this year, to be used in the jail canteens, for large vegetables delivered to the prison, and by the 18,000 inmates it houses to carry small daily use items.
The prisoners have also started stitching jute folders to replace the plastic ones used in Tihar’s administrative office.
Jail officials say it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to reduce single-use plastic that struck a chord. The officials added that while some prisoners did stitch jute bags in the past, the numbers have swelled dramatically -- last year the prisoners stitched 46,443 bags, and 21,018 the year before. So far in 2019, 250,636 bags have been stitched.
These bags are also sold outside the prison, with the PHD Chambers of Commerce, the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Delhi Judicial Academy and Indian Council of Agricultural Research among the main buyers.
Not just prisoners, with almost 25,000 bags being produced every month, officers are finding new ways to reduce the use of single-use plastic in the jail. Until recently, Tihar got at least 5,000 half-litre polythene pouches of milk; not anymore. At Tihar’s Mandoli complex, 15 integrated containers of Mother Dairy were installed on November 23. Now, the prisoners can directly go to the dispensing machine and get the milk in containers. This will soon be available across all sub-jails in the prison.
The superintendent of Tihar’s Jail No 4, Rajesh Chauhan, says all jails across Tihar are trying to completely do away with the use of plastic or polythene. “First of all, we use jute bags for all purposes. At the canteen or from the stores outside, we used polythene before; now we have jute bags of all sizes. Previously, we used plastic glasses in the canteen; we use washable glasses now. We no longer use plastic folders as well. We have our own environment-friendly folders made by the inmates,” he said.
Chauhan said that, until 2017, there were only 32 prisoners in the “jute factory”. “Today there are 118 prisoners working in the jute bag-making factory. The prisoners get paid for stitching the bags,” he said.
The prisoners decide their own rates. The bags are sold between ~25 and ~300, depending on the size and design. The inmates earn between ~5 to ~45 per bag.
Chauhan said that a Delhi-based NGO, Jan Shikshan Sansthan , is also training 40 inmates in jute production under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikash Yojana (PMKVY). “They are learning new skills so that they can find a suitable job after leaving the prison,” he said.
“We must learn from them [inmates]. It can be taken as a case study, especially when people say it cannot be done, this cannot be implemented, you cannot get rid of single-use plastic. I think this is a live example, which shows that if you have the right will and the right administrative support, a change can happen. The prison is like a small habitation colony. If they can do it, why can’t the others? A similar change can happen on a larger scale,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager (municipal solid waste), Centre for Science and Environment.