Waste behind bars

Waste behind bars Until recently, the Capital's Tihar jail was notorious for vicious outbreaks among its inmates. But since April this year, it has made news for an entirely unlikely reason: taking up, among other things, a programme for converting prison garbage into manure.

Leading the image turnabout at Tihar is Kiran Bedi, Delhi's inspector general of prisons, whose innovative prison management techniques helped her win this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. The recycling project, says Bedi, was conceived out of the need to maintain basic prison hygiene and overcome resource limitations.

The 100-ha Tihar prison complex has 4 jails packed with 8,700 prisoners and generates 3 tonnes of waste every day. The waste used to be cleared out by contractors at the rate of Rs 1,000 per tonne. This, Bedi felt, was "money down the drain" -- Rs 10 lakh every year. Besides, "the jail always smelt foul because the contractors were inefficient".

The prison decided to dispense with the contractors and recycle the garbage into manure with the help of the Bombay-based Excel Industries, a manufacturer of agricultural chemicals. Now, each tonne of prison waste is dumped in a corner and sprayed with a bio-organic solution, which ferments the pile into about 250 kg of manure in about 2 months. Since April, 2 jails have manufactured 22,000 tonnes of manure and the other 2 were to lift their first lot late July.

The manure is packed in 5-kg bags, sold for Rs 20 each. The ministry of agriculture is assisting in the creation of a network of buyers. It has also offered Rs 20 lakh for the process to be mechanised. "We could then raise production from 1 tonne per month to 5 tonnes," predicts Surinder Singh, a lifer with a diploma in agriculture who is in charge of conservation programmes in Jail 1. Earnings from the sale of manure, says P S Jarial, deputy superintendent of Jail 3, are put into a prisoner welfare fund.

Besides waste recycling, other environment-friendly programmes are also being implemented or are on the cards. Each jail makes Rs 3,000 per month from selling leftover chapattis, which are made into fodder by drying them out in the sun.

The "latest breakthrough", says Bedi, is an agriculture ministry proposal to develop the prison into the Capital's premier supplier of seeds and saplings. Says agriculture secretary J C Pant, who was impressed with the inmates who transformed Tihar's dour environs into a verdant landscape: "The jail has enough land, water and people who want to work at growing plants." Already, there are 2 nurseries in the prison, stocked with 1,500 saplings of fruit and flowering trees.

Sulabh International has offered to set up biogas plants to generate electricity from waste. Jarial says the kitchen garden and manure production activities may be combined and run by a cooperative of residential welfare committees, prisoners and Excel.

Says Bedi, "Prisoners are learning that bars do not hinder the creation of a small, sustainable society in which nothing is wasted and even soil and waste can become precious resources."

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