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EXPLAINED: As Court Asks Anil Deshmukh To Try Jail Fare, A Look At The Food In India's Prisons

The special PMLA court told Deshmukh that it would consider his plea for home-cooked food in case of any complaint

The special PMLA court told Deshmukh that it would consider his plea for home-cooked food in case of any complaint

Model guidelines lay down adequate dietary provisions for inmates, but uniformity of standards may not be a given when it comes to food available inside jails

Former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who has been arrested in connection with a money laundering investigation, was told by a special court to partake of jail food while he continues in judicial custody, rejecting his plea for home-cooked food. The food served in jail has been in news recently in connection with some high-profile cases, like the cruise ship drugs bust in which Aryan Khan, Shah Rukh Khan’s son, was arrested. Here’s a look at the food in jail and the diet extended to prisoners.

Who Decides What Food Is Served In Indian Prisons?

Law and order is a state subject and prisons are maintained by the state governments which, therefore, are also responsible for providing the dietary needs of inmates in jails. While the food served in prisons may be subject to the cultural, ethnic and resultant culinary diversity of the country, there are model guidelines on the diet for inmates, the most recent of which was issued by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2016.

The Model Prison Manual 2016 says that the state governments can prescribe the dietary allocations for prisoners based on guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It adds that the “scales of diet" may vary according to local customs and dietary habits but should “so far as possible, be in compliance with the prescribed standards".

Due consideration, the model rules say, is to be given to the “needs, habits and modes of living of prisoners and the climatic conditions of the place" while the state government may “also modify the scales at any time if it deems fit".

But studies note that while the present policy, “at least in theory, is to provide standard diet sufficient enough to preserve health and strength… how much of the prescribed food and of what quality eventually reaches the prisoner is a matter of speculation for it is common knowledge that corruption is rampant in jail administration".

“In spite of various jail committees’ recommendations and courts directions, the quality and quantity of food, the arrangements regarding preparation of food, management of kitchens, distribution of food eating place etc. were all seemed to be not satisfactory," a study said.

What Makes Up A Jail Inmate’s Diet?

The Model Prison Manual says that the diet for every prisoner should, among other things, include 600gm of cereals, 100gm of pulses and 250gm of vegetables. It also recommends fish or meat of 100gm per head twice a week, or in its place, milk of 500ml, ghee (15gm), or groundnut (100gm). This diet plan lay out detailed quantities for everything from oil to salt and sugar for each prisoner. The calorie requirement to be met through the prison diet should range between 2,320-2,730 k/cal per day for a male prisoner and from 1900 k/cal to 2,230 k/cal for a woman prisoner, it said based on the nutrient requirements and recommended dietary allowances for Indians.

It also prescribes special diet for pregnant and nursing women inmates that includes milk, and fish or meat or curd, adding that fresh fruit may also be provided to pregnant women and lactating mothers per quantities prescribed by the medical officer.

According to the model guidelines, the daily dietary requirements of a prisoner should be met through three meals “according to the scales prescribed". There should thus be a light meal in the morning before the hour of work, a midday meal and an evening meal before they are locked up for the night.

Data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2019 showed that close to half (47.9 per cent) of total expenses on inmates went towards food. Uttar Pradesh had the highest food expenditure of Rs 175 crore followed by Bihar (Rs 145.8 crore) and Madhya Pradesh (Rs 72.7 crore) in the 2019-20 financial year. UP had the highest prison inmate population for 2019 at over 1 lakh followed by Madhya Pradesh (44,000 approx.) and Bihar (39,000 approx.).

Reports citing NCRB data from 2015 say that the states spent an average of Rs 52.4 to provide meals to prisoners and that, with the exception of the northeastern and southern states along with West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir, non-vegetarian food is not provided free of cost to the prisoners.

The data said that Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat spent the least on prison food in 2015 at Rs 31.3, Rs 32.8, Rs 34.2 and Rs 35.4, respectively, per prisoner per day while Nagaland had the highest expense at Rs 139.2 per prisoner per day. Reports said that Rs 32/day was the threshold for the poverty line — based on dietary requirements — for rural India for 2013.

Can Exceptions Be Made In Special Cases?

The model manual provides for exceptions and variations on the food provided for festive occasions and for prisoners who may be observing religious fasts. It exhorts nonetheless that “no reduction or alteration in the prescribed diet and scales shall be made except under special circumstances and with the prior approval of the inspector general (IG).

Deshmukh’s lawyer had made a plea of acidity, to which the PMLA court judge had said that even home-cooked food could be behind the problem. “So far as the prayer of home food is concerned, let the accused be admitted in jail. The appropriate order will be passed later on dependent upon the complaints in the light of health issues of accused," the court said.

The model manual notes that if, upon a recommendation from the medical officer, the jail superintendent deems the prescribed diet as being “unsuitable or insufficient for a prisoner for reasons of his health or his peculiar mode of living", he may order a special diet. Such an order has to be made in writing and is subject to approval from the IG.

Can Prisoners Have Home-Cooked Food?

Article 31 of the Prisons Act, 1894, provides for a civil prisoner or an unconvicted criminal prisoner to be allowed to “purchase, or receive from private sources at proper hours, food, clothing, bedding or other necessaries". However, such a facility is, too, subject to approval by the IG.

Where Mumbai’s famous Arthur Road prison is concerned, a report from 2011 says that the state prisons department had pushed for the barring of home-cooked food for inmates with the then IG (Prisons) Surender Kumar said to have argued that outside food “can be misused in many ways, including bringing in poisonous substance mixed with the food".

“I have cited as many as eight different reasons to the state government, asking them to move the higher courts in appealing against the outside cooked food facility for the inmates. Another factor is that the food supplier can also act as a messenger for the inmates," he had said, noting that over 40 inmates of the Arthur Road, Thane and Taloja jails had been permitted by courts to receive home-cooked food.

When Aryan Khan, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son, was lodged in the Arthur Road jail pending bail hearings in a drugs case, reports had said that he had had a money order sent from home of Rs 4,500 for meeting his needs in prison. The menu at the Arthur Road prison canteen, reports said, included bread, snacks, vadapav, bhajiapav, samosa, chicken and egg thalis, juice, etc. Rs 4,500 is the maximum amount that can be sent to prisoner at the jail, reports added.

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first published:November 16, 2021, 15:14 IST