Chennai: Steaming hot upma or pongal, sambhar rice with vegetables, boiled peanuts, dal with ghee and roasted chicken. This is not the menu card of a south Indian restaurant, but food served to inmates of various prisons in Tamil Nadu.
No wonder, a jail stint in the state leaves prisoners with an expanded waistline or even a pot-belly, contrary to the general perception that jailbirds look haggard or emaciated.
Nearly 90% of prisoners in the state who were freed during 2007-08 have gone home with increased weight, according to the latest data released by the Department of Statistics and Economics. Interestingly, not even a single prisoner lost weight during his/her stay in jail, going by the details given.
Of the 4,796 prisoners released, 4,231 people, including 241 women, had gained weight varying from 1 kg to 3 kg, while there was no change in the weight of the rest. Of the prisoners released during 2006-07, 115 had gained over 5 kg, the statistics revealed.
“What the prisoners in TN get is a balanced diet of the sort they may not get outside,’’ said V Kannadasan, special public prosecutor for the Human Rights Court. “They are served bed-time tea at 6 am, followed by upma or pongal or gruel for breakfast. At noon, they are served 650 gm of rice with sambhar, butter milk and vegetables, which is followed by boiled peanuts in the evening. Dinner consists of 550 gm of rice with sambhar. For those advised a wheat diet by doctors, chappatis and dal are served,’’ he added.
Sundays are special as the prisoners are served 150 gm of chicken. While those in ‘A’ class cells get to relish the non-vegetarian dish thrice a week, vegetarians are served dal with ghee.
Should the bulging waistline of prisoners be attributed to nutritious food or lack of physical activity? “We ensure that their diet has a proper mix of nutrition to meet calorific requirements. To improve the quality of commodities, we’ve dispensed with the contract system and started procuring food items from the public distribution system,’’ said R Natraj, DGP (fire and rescue services).
However, some activists disagree with the official theory, saying that the “obesity’’ of prisoners was due to a lack of physical activity. “The weight gain among prisoners does not indicate that they are being given nutritious food. People above 40 years are generally prone to gaining weight and hence it cannot be taken as an indicator of their well-being,’’ said lawyer-activist Sudha Ramalingam.
P Pugazhenthi, director, Prisoners Rights Forum, said unlike earlier times, prisoners were not being given physical work, which not only kept them fit but also fetched them remuneration.