The Tamil Nadu prison industry, one of the highest profit-making revenue models among State prisons in the country, has been hit by COVID-19 and the ongoing lockdown.

While units in the Puzhal Central Prison were closed down after 30 convicts and a sanitation worker tested positive for COVID-19 a couple of days ago, productivity in manufacturing units in other central prisons across the State has been severely hit due to non-availability of raw materials owing to lockdown restrictions.

Tamil Nadu prisons have consistently remained on top in the country, in terms of profits from selling products under the ‘Freedom’ brand name.

They sell bakery items, clothes, handicraft articles, candles, stationery, etc., through ‘Freedom Bazaar’ shops. Trained convicts get paid for the work.

The Puzhal prison runs a petrol bunk on the National Highway close to its campus, and that too has been shut since one of the 16 convicts posted on duty there, on shifts, tested positive.

Director-General of Police (Prisons) Sunil Kumar Singh said that steps had been taken to finalise tenders for purchasing raw materials, and all manufacturing units in central prisons would soon resume full-fledged production.

About four lakh surgical masks, stitched for the Tamil Nadu police and other State front line workers, are available, since their selling price is ₹10 a piece, considering their manufacturing cost.

“We had purchased the raw materials at a high cost since they were scarce during the lockdown. Now surgical masks are available at lower costs and we are not able to clear the stock at ₹10 a piece,” he said.

Source unknown

Mr. Singh said that the source of infection in the Puzhal Central Prison remained unknown. Investigation was on to ascertain the source, as visitors were not allowed since the lockdown commenced a couple of months ago. Only prison staff and medical professionals had regular access inside the prison.

“We have closed down the videoconference and telephone facilities for now. Tests are being done for others on the advice of doctors. Those who tested positive have been quarantined and are responding well to treatment. Only a few of them have mild symptoms like fever. Five convicts have been shifted to the Stanley Government Hospital and their condition is stable,” he said.

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