Road to rehabilitation
Propelling inmates to a life of normality, petrol pumps in Telangana are offering prisoners employment for gradual integration into mainstream society
When I landed in Hyderabad, it was already late night. The driver suddenly stopped at one point and said very enthusiastically – Madam, look at this petrol pump. I looked and noticed five men manning the pump. There were at least seven or eight cars standing in a row waiting for their turn. The petrol pump appeared to be rather neat and clean and well-managed. Then I remembered that an officer had recently told me that a large number of petrol pumps in Telangana are being run by jail inmates. I had never understood the formula and the viability before witnessing it with my own eyes.
Owned by the Indian Oil Corporation Limited, these petrol pumps at Chanchalguda, Telangana have completed five years of successful existence. There are 14 petrol pumps in Telangana which are completely run by these inmates, or the retired staff of the jail. As many as 45 life-term convicts, as well as 16 released convicts, work at these petrol pumps across three shifts. These petrol pumps are run 24X7 and ensure that the inmates receive their due pay for the shifts.
There are two other petrol pumps which are being run by women inmates separately, indistinguishable from any other operated by the common people. These women come to the petrol pump every day as does a regular employee, and at the end of each month, they are paid a sum total of Rs 12000/-, which no inmate in any part of the country can even dream of.
Life convicts operating these petrol pumps at Chanchalguda have earned a profit of more than four crores for the prisons department. This amount will be further utilised for prison development. The DG of Telangana Prisons, Vinoy Kumar Singh and Superintendent of Chanchalguda Jail, B Saidaih proudly share that petrol pumps stand first in all oil stations across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in terms of the revenue collected through the sale of petrol, not including diesel. The annual turnover for the sale of petrol is Rs 100-120 crore. The sale is between 28,000 litres to 30,000 litres every day. The petrol bunk also stands at the eighth position at the all-India level in the sale of petrol.
The life convicts who work at these petrol pumps are selected by a committee of officials. The prisoner's good behaviour, family ties and returning to the jail in time after parole, are some important factors that are considered before recruitment.
While no prisoner has ever made any attempt to escape from the Chanchalguda Petrol Pump, there have been instances where customers have misbehaved with them. But, even this has not deterred their confidence. They view this petrol pump as the road to rehabilitation and a beginning to their new life. They stand at these pumps with confidence and treat everyone with equal respect. For them, these customers add value to their lives. While serving here, they are not oblivious to the fact that most of the jails across India do not provide such incentives to them. They are also aware that once they leave the jail and if no one else offers them a job, this is the pump where they can return to and get an employment. While many inmates are forced to change their identities after leaving the prison, this formula has helped the inmates become more comfortable with their own self. For them, incentives like these have made them feel like every other normal human being.
As per the jail rules, prisoners undergoing rigorous imprisonment, and those who work in factories run by the jail, currently get a daily incentive of Rs 110/-. The Director-General of Prisons has already written to the State Government to increase the amount to Rs 250/-.
These inmates come to these petrol pumps in prison bus and return likewise. Those who are a part of the open jail system, walk down to the petrol pump in the vicinity and serve happily. They have dreams in their eyes. Those who come to these pumps, look at them with surprise for the first time which later converts into deep appreciation towards the cause and the deliberate, concentrated efforts.
While the modern prison manual talks about good practices along with reformative and rehabilitative measures, there are very few prisons that have gone ahead with the mundane task of law and security by creating something unique that encompasses a far-reaching vision and an ability to produce promising results.
(Dr. Vartika Nanda is a prison reformer. She is the founder of TINKA TINKA, a unique initiative on prison reforms. The views expressed are strictly personal)