Maharashtra spends as less as Rs 37.49 per day on each prisoner to provide him three square meals — as prescribed in the diet scale of prison manuals — which is much less than the national average of Rs 60.22 per day per prisoner. There are a total of 3.80 lakh prisoners in India, of which 26,303 are lodged in Maharashtra jails. Sikkim spends the highest on prisoners’ food, almost double the national average. It spends around Rs 122 per prisoner per day. Tripura spends the lowest on food for its prisoners, spending a measly Rs 27.73 per day.
While hearing a PIL filed by NGO Jan Adalat – Centre of Para-Legal Services and Legal Aid on the issue of jail conditions in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court in 2017 had asked the state to improve the standard of the prisons. Following this, the government had appointed a three-member committee in each district to monitor the condition of prison food.
The districtwise committees comprises a nutritionist and a male and female social worker, who have been tasked to visit prisons at least once a month and monitor the quality and quantity of the food provided to prisoners. The committee will have to give its feedback to the government, which will then make changes based on the recommendations.
A senior home department official said, “Different states calculate the money spent on prison food in their own way. For example, we do not add the expenses for the gas used in the food budget. It forms a part of our miscellaneous expenses. However, if another state includes it in their food budget, it would automatically raise its food expense.”
The official added that while prison food is not “as good as home cooked food”, nutritionists decide what is to be served in prisons.
“Over the past few years, organisations like Tata Trusts and Wipro have been involved in providing food at least at the central prisons. things were so bad, they would not have wanted to be associated with us.”
The Model Prison Manual drafted by the Union Home Ministry prescribes that a male prisoner should have a calorie intake of between 2,320 to 2,730 kcal/day. For female prisoners, it is stipulated to be between 1,900 to 2,830 kcal/day.
Because prison administration is a federal subject, every state has the right to decide its own menu, provided that it adheres to the nutritional requirements laid down by the manual. While prison manuals specify the exact weightage of pulses and vegetables that a prisoner should get, the quality of food that is given leaves a lot to be desired.
In 2016, the state government had a budget of Rs 278.4 crore for its prisons with Rs 85 crore allotted for the upkeep of prisoners. Of
Rs 36 crore is spent on food.
The only way that prisoners can have access to decent food is through jail canteen. Every prisoner is allowed to receive a sum of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,200 per month from his family to spend in the canteen. Certain states also sell non-vegetarian food on specific days of the year, including festivals, when prisoners can buy food from the canteen