Delhi banker Gaurav Gupta sat down for lunch at a new air-conditioned restaurant, to be greeted by a smiling waiter who took his order for a traditional “thali” meal of flatbread, lentils, vegetables and rice.

Nothing unusual, except that the employee, like most of his colleagues, is a convicted murderer serving time in south Asia’s largest prison complex.

Tihar Food Court in west Delhi, a rehabilitation effort kicked off by the Tihar prison, opened in the first week of this month on an “experimental basis” while awaiting formal clearances. It is sited 500m away from prisoners’ dormitories.

With a spacious interior lined with wooden tables and walls adorned with paintings done by prisoners, the 50-seat restaurant has been praised for the polite behaviour of its employees, who were trained by a prestigious nearby hotel management school.

“The food is average,” said Gupta. “But the hygiene factor is really good, very clean.”

Restaurant manager Mohammad Asim said there were about 50 customers every day, with each worker paid 74 rupees (R13) for the day’s work.

To be eligible to work in the restaurant, inmates must have kept up an “unblemished record” through at least 12 years of imprisonment.

Prisoners eligible to be released within two years are picked for the job, to minimise the temptation to escape. – Reuters