Jail inmates produced goods generating gross sales worth Rs 223.4 crore in 2020, according to the government's annual Prison Statistics India report.
The amount ranks at 496th place if compared with the latest net sales numbers of S&P BSE 500 companies, reports Sachin P Mampatta.
When Mahatma Gandhi was jailed in the non-cooperation movement in 1922, he is said to have spent his time spinning yarn on his charkha. It is said he urged some imprisoned criminals to join in.
Indian prisoners, as part of vocational training and rehabilitation today, make handloom textiles, furniture, bakery items and other products.
If the prison system were a listed company, its sales would rival some of India's largest firms.
Inmates produced goods generating gross sales worth Rs 223.4 crore in 2020, according to the government's annual Prison Statistics India report.
The amount would rank the system at 496th place if compared with the latest net sales numbers of S&P BSE 500 companies.
The prison net sales figures are for the calendar year 2020.
A caveat about the comparison: Most S&P BSE 500 companies follow a financial year ending March and data availability varies for listed firms.
The ranking is indicative, but gives a sense of the scale of commercial operations in Indian prisons.
It is even more impressive if one considers numbers before the coronavirus pandemic.
Gross sales in 2019 hit Rs 846 crore, the highest since at least 2000.
In 2020, there was a 73.6 per cent decline in sales due to the pandemic. The lockdown affected outlets selling jail products.
Delhi's Tihar Haat, which sells furniture, apparel and bakery products made by inmates, was closed for 11 months.
Some prisons started selling products online to make up for the pandemic setback.
Productivity in prisons was improving before the pandemic.
Business Standard calculated the value of goods produced per inmate, on an all-India basis using prison population and sales figures for recent years.
The pre-pandemic 2019 figure was more than 20 time the value in 2001 as seen in chart 1
Sales per inmate was highest in Telangana (Rs 73,619.37) and second highest in Tamil Nadu (Rs 46,649.63).
Tamil Nadu topped the ranks in total sales by states. The top five states dominated overall gross sales (see chart 2).
Prisons provided vocational training to 42,976 inmates in 2020. The average daily wage for prisoners varied between Rs 85-110 based on the nature of the work (see chart 3).
The amount is lower than wages outside prisons. The average daily rural wage rate for general agricultural labourers (men) in 2020-21 was Rs 309.9, shows Reserve Bank of India data. It was Rs 315.3 for male non-agricultural labourers.
Prisoners are paid far less even by the highest paying states and Union territories.
Delhi was the best paymaster for skilled (Rs 308) and semi-skilled inmates (Rs 248). Himachal Pradesh paid the highest wages for unskilled workers (Rs 300).
Gandhi described liberty as a dearly bought commodity manufactured in prisons.
The 4,88,511 prison inmates mentioned in the latest prison report manufactured many different things; perhaps most importantly the chance of a better life.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com