Over 250 inmates of South Asia's largest prison - the Tihar Jail (TJ) here - have been busy for the past two months preparing Diwali eatables from a wide variety of cookies to colourful diyas. The response from the market is so overwhelming that authorities feel this time they will earn over Rs. 1 crore during the festive season.
"Last year, the Diwali delicacies prepared by the inmates were a huge hit. So, this year, we have rolled out a wide range of cookies, naan khatai and namkeen (savouries) and decoration pieces in a special Diwali gift pack," said Sunil Kumar Gupta, Law Officer (Jails), Delhi Prisons, who handles public relations.
With 'TJ's Celebrations' inscribed on it, the gift pack is available in four varieties.
Baby Tihar has two varieties of namkeen and cookies and costs Rs.90. Tihar Buzz, costing Rs.150, has three types of namkeen and bhujia packets. Tihar Tokri with 10 namkeen and cookies varieties costs Rs.400 and Master Tihar for Rs.750 consists of 10 namkeen and cookies varieties along with spices like garam masala, kali mirch and dhaniya powder.
"Unlike many other high-end brands, TJ products cost far less. Tasting like homemade goodies, many people prefer them," Gupta told IANS.
Last year, over 10,000 TJ Diwali gift packets were sold ahead of Diwali, fetching Rs.50 lakh.
"This year, we expect the sales to touch Rs.1 crore," Gupta said.
With news of adulterated sweets in the markets doing the rounds, jail authorities are hopeful that the quality and hygiene of TJ's products would give them an added advantage as quality control is strictly enforced.
"Now TJ is a brand. So, we are very strict with the quality requirements of the items we make. Special attention is given to hygienic conditions in the kitchen," said Gupta.
'TJ's Celebrations' Diwali packets are made available at all shopping complexes, in retail shopping chains like Reliance and Big Bazaar and other stores.
"With inflation hitting the roof, attractive and inexpensive Diwali gifts prepared by Tihar jail prisoners give some relief. The gift packs that are offered by TJ's are cheap but tasty," according to Kusum Rai, a home maker. The mother of two bought a bagful of these products to gift on Diwali, which falls on Tuesday.
"Yesterday, I went to TJ's shop in the Delhi High Court to buy some cookies where I found that they have gift packs at nominal rates. But, I was not able to buy more than five packets, as the shop had run out of stocks. There is huge demand for TJ products," Anita Tyagi, a lawyer, told IANS.
Apart from the goodies, the prison inmates have also come out with colourful candles and diyas.
"The prisoners in jails number eight and nine prepare diyas and candles. Over 40,000 packets of candles were prepared this time. There are 20 varieties of candles in various sizes and colours," Gupta added.
As a new initiative and to encourage women inmates of the prison complex in entrepreneurship, a new cake and pastry unit is in the pipeline in jail number six, where women prisoners are lodged.
"By the end of this month, a new cake and pastry unit will be started in the women's jail," Gupta said.
Tihar, one of the largest prison complexes in South Asia housing almost 11,000 prisoners, had an annual turnover of Rs.3 crore from its TJ bakery products last year and this year. The jail officials expect it to touch around Rs.5 crore.
The bakery was started in 1995 to supply bread and also to feed the inmates in Tihar Jail. In the past 18 years, the enterprise has evolved into the TJ brand that is a hit among Delhiites with its diverse product portfolio, said Gupta.
Apart from the bakery products, the inmates of the jail complex are engaged in producing paper products, apparel, furniture, soap, blankets and disinfectants.
(Prathiba Raju can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)