PRISON agriculture in Maharashtra has gone beyond just a rehabilitation and reformation programme for prisoners. The prison agricultural production across 29 prisons in the state has grown leaps and bounds and stands at almost Rs 4 crore in 2016 as compared to Rs 2.54 crore two years ago. The profits from production has also increased by 15-20 per cent. Across the 588 hectares of agricultural land held by the prisons department, the last year saw new technologies, more suitable crops and implementation of schemes in coordination with government departments, the agriculture university and NGOs. Every year, over 800 prisoners are engaged in agricultural activities and avail remissions based on the number of days they work on a farm.
Sanjay Phadtare, Technical Officer, Agriculture, Prisons (Maharashtra), said, “Farming is the most sought-after activity among prisoners. It gives them remissions. Besides, they are not working within four walls. Remissions and exemptions are given to those that are serving life imprisonment and depending on the number of days he works in the field and his conduct, he will avail remissions. The more he works, the less days he spends in the jail.”
The prisoners receive wages anywhere between Rs 40 and Rs 55 per day. Last year, a total of Rs 83.29 lakh in wages were paid to prisoners engaged in farming, steep rise compared to previous years.
B K Upadhyay, Additional DG and IG, Prisons (Maharashtra), said, “We have about 800 hectares of land available, of which over 500 are agricultural land, 57 per cent of which is under irrigation and rest are rain-fed. While the farming programme was started as a rehabilitation activity, it has gained a lot of momentum with a variety of produces, plantation and allied activities being undertaken by us.”
From the traditional cereal cultivation like rice and wheat, most prisons have now started producing fenugreek, spinach, Rajgira, tomato, potato, onion, ginger and pumpkin.
In Pune’s Yerawada jail, a large area is dedicated to banana tissue culture and mushroom production, besides citrus plantation in Morshi prison and even mulberry plantation in Visapur jail. Sandalwood plantation is also being undertaken in a few prisons including Yerawada and Nashik.
Bamboo, mango, teak, jamun and been are also being planted in the available forest area. Also undertaken on a large scale are goat farming, poultry, horticulture, dairy and fisheries.
“From 2014-2016, we received a funding of about Rs 1.44 crore from the government and we have been using it to enhance technology and increase wages,” said Phadtare.
The department, apart from improving the quality of seeds and fertilisers, has invested in drip irrigation, over 20 tractors, farm equipment, electric motors and pumps, new crops and seed production, new irrigation methods and even organic farming such as vermi-compost and also biogas plants. A soil analysis was also undertaken with the help of fertilisers that resulted in enhanced production.
“Earlier, the rates of the produce from our farms were low. Now, we go by the APMC rates. Therefore, the produce gets proper rates. While some of the produce is consumed in jails, the rest is sold in the market. While we have supervisors within the prison, we get help and training from agricultural departments, nearby institutes and even local farmers to improve the skills of prisoners,” added Phadtare.
According to the department, more funds have been sought from the government. “Currently, of the 55 jails, 29 have land for farming, most of which are open prisons. We are also planning to manufacture agricultural equipment also within the prison premises to make us more self-sufficient,” added Upadhyay.