Satyendar Jain’s viral meal video puts focus on food of jail inmates

Each state government follows its own diet plan in jail, based on the food needs and tastes of that particular region.

A video of Delhi minister Satyendar Jain having an elaborate meal inside Tihar jail cell has created a furore.

By Tirtho Banerjee: Around a week after a video of Delhi minister Satyendar Jain getting a massage in Tihar jail surfaced, another footage of him relishing an elaborate meal inside the cell stirred a hornets’ nest on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Jain had submitted before the trial court that he had not been getting privileges like proper food and medical check-up. The minister had also claimed that he had lost 28 kg while being in prison.

The video showing him having a sumptuous meal has spotlighted the issue of food served in Indian jails. Let’s take a look at the diet rules and food dished out in the prisons.

ALSO READ: Satyendar Jain’s jailhouse ‘luxury’: After massage, now lavish meal for AAP leader in Tihar


Noted journalist Kuldip Nayar, who was incarcerated during the Emergency in 1975, once said: “The dal (lentils) was watery and the chapattis half-baked……… I could see a few flies floating on the surface†¦â€¦â€¦. After some days, I became so accustomed to finding flies in food that I would simply fish them out and start eating without a qualm……”

And if Bollywood films are anything to go by, food in prisons across India isn’t palatable enough. Even though films paint a sorry picture of prison food, it is the half-truth – it all depends on the efficiency of the jail management and how transparent they are.

“The present policy, at least in theory, is to provide a standard diet sufficient enough to preserve health and strength. But how much of the prescribed food and of what quality eventually reaches the prisoner is a matter of speculation because it is common knowledge that corruption is rampant in jail administration,” a study pointed out.

There are diet guidelines that jails have to follow. And since law and order is a state subject, prison is maintained by the state governments. Each state government follows its own diet plan, based on the food needs and tastes of that particular region.

The Model Prison Manual 2016 spells out that the state governments can lay down the dietary allocations for jail inmates and this should be based on guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). So, if the breakfast for prisoners in Kerala is made up of idli, dosa and sambar, in Maharashtra, it could be poha or missal paav and in Delhi, kachori or samosa.

The state government can change the scales or menu at any time if it deems fit, according to the model.


The Model Prison Manual, 2016 says scales may vary according to local customs and dietary habits in each state but should, so far as possible, be in compliance with the prescribed standards. Every prison inmate’s diet should have cereals (including millet) 600 gm; pulses 100gm; vegetables (green leafy, roots and tubers, other) 250 gm; fish or meat of 100 gm per head twice a week, or alternatively, milk of 500ml, ghee (15gm), or groundnut (100gm).

Quantities for oil, salt, sugar and other stuff for each prisoner are also clearly mentioned in the model. The prison diet should meet the calorie requirement. It should range between 2,320-2,730 k/cal per day for a male prisoner and from 1,900 k/cal to 2,230 k/cal for a woman inmate, the model said. Pregnant or breastfeeding inmates are supposed to receive an adequate food diet high in protein content and rich in fruits and vegetables.

The daily dietary requirements of a prisoner should be met through three meals “according to the scales prescribed” — a light meal in the morning before the hour of work, a midday meal and an evening meal.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data revealed in 2019 that 47.9 per cent of total expenses on jail inmates went towards food.

The UNDOC says that every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served. It adds that drinking water should be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.


In special circumstances, exceptions and changes in the diet can be made. However, it requires the prior approval of the inspector general (IG). The exceptions and variations in food can be made if the inmate is facing health issues. In such cases, a medical expert has to examine the inmate and recommend a special diet in writing accordingly.

As per Article 31 of the Prisons Act, 1894, a civil prisoner or an unconvicted criminal prisoner may be allowed to “purchase, or receive from private sources at proper hours, food, clothing, bedding or other necessaries” after the IG’s nod. In some cases, food packages provided by families are prohibited, or only certain products are allowed.

According to law, Rs 4,500 is the maximum amount that can be sent to a prisoner at the jail in a month. Most prisoners use it to buy food from prison canteens or stores.


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