Setting up gaushalas on surplus jail land will not help prisoners
When we think of Indian jails, what comes to mind is overcrowding, lack of proper sanitation and human rights violations. So, the move by the Uttar Pradesh government to set up gaushalas on jail premises comes as a bit of a surprise. Last year, Haryana announced that it would set up gaushalas in jails.
The rationale is that this will provide another form of productive activity for prisoners and will also utilise surplus land on jail premises. But this is clearly a case of misplaced priorities. The state governments which are planning to set up these facilities should first take a long hard look at the conditions in jails that need to be set right first. At the all India level, the occupancy rate at the beginning of last year was 114.4%. Two-thirds of all prisoners are undertrials, people not convicted of any crime and who are packed like sardines into small spaces. Of these, an average of four dies every day. Two-thirds of these deaths are deemed to be suicides and some are murders at the hands of other inmates. Seventy per cent of convicts are semi-literate or illiterate and the plight of women prisoners is particularly worrying. They are at risk of violence both from other inmates and prison guards. A major problem that most inmates face is lack of sleep thanks to overcrowding and excess heat or cold. These are some of the issues that should exercise state governments.
If there is surplus land, it could be gainfully used to set up literacy or computer centres with an aim to dispense rehabilitative justice as opposed to retributive justice. The idea should be to enable the prisoner to be gainfully employed once he has served his term and reintegrate into society. The setting up of gaushalas is part of a political agenda in most BJP-ruled states. But to use surplus land on jail grounds in no way helps the prisoners.
Dairy farming is certainly a skill but this would also suppose that the prisoner once freed would have access to livestock in order to earn an income. The government could think also of using the land to set up counselling centres for prisoners. In fact, surplus land can also be used to expand the prison facilities so that overcrowding can be lessened. The government cannot be totally focused on cow protection and promotion at the cost of other pressing issues.