In Shimla, a café is run by prisoners

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Free wi-fi access, fast food items for visitors just above Shimla’s iconic Ridge

Life for Darshan Singh, Jai Chand and Yograj, who are serving life sentences for murder and other charges at a Shimla jail, just got more interesting.

Thanks to the local municipal corporation and jail authorities, the three prisoners from Model Central Jail Kanda will now run the ‘Book Café’ during the day.

Besides providing books and magazines, their duties will include giving free wi-fi access to visitors and running a fast food joint. The café will be run exclusively by the inmates.

“The café will also act like a mini library, and have books of national and international importance,” said Shimla Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar.

The café, inaugurated in the hill town on Tuesday, is located at a spot called Taka Bench. Situated right above the Ridge and on the way to the famous Jakhu temple, it will have books on tourism and history, including those about days of the British Raj, besides piping hot coffee and snacks.

Darshan, who is the bakery manager at the café, said: “I’d like to thank the jail authorities and the local civic body for giving me this opportunity.”

“We’re not sure about [the length of] our prison term, but we’re free during the day,” said visibly-elated Jai and Yograj.

Surendra Sharma, a tourist from Faridabad who stopped by the café on Wednesday, said, “I popped in for a quick peek at a book on the history of Shimla — Edward J. Buck’s Simla, Past and Present , that was written in 1904.” The inmates will also exhibit products made by prisoners at the cafe, said Director General of Police (Prisons) Somesh Goel.

Bakery products, shawls

Besides bakery products, the prisoners have been making woollen shawls that Himachal Pradesh is famous for and other apparel items since the past few years.

“Our endeavour is to help convicts get some recognition and supplement their income,” Mr. Goel said.

The book café, which received a lot of publicity before it was opened, will receive logistical aid from the municipal corporation and the State Tourism Department.

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