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Short arm of the law

Manu Sharma’s parole should make us uncomfortable about how the law works. There’s a standard rule pertaining to criminal deterrence: break the law, go to jail. But that seems to be just one side of this rule of law, considering that there’s a corollary: be rich and well-connected if you break the law; even prison can’t hold you then.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2009 21:43 IST

There’s a standard rule pertaining to criminal deterrence: break the law, go to jail. But that seems to be just one side of this rule of law, considering that there’s a corollary: be rich and well-connected if you break the law; even prison can’t hold you then.

After a public outcry — a necessary gesture, it seems, these days if you want criminals to pay in this country — Manu Sharma was convicted in 2006 to life imprisonment for shooting dead Jessica Lal in April 1999. We all know the story; we also know the much more predictable story that followed until closure was finally reached. A decade is a long time and murder is a serious crime by most people’s reckoning. So when justice was finally meted out three years ago — after a retrial that followed an astounding acquittal in 2003 — we were comforted that the law was not two different entities for the well-heeled and for the less well-shod. For the last few days, however, we were shocked to discover that ‘babalog justice’ wasn’t only alive and kicking but was also laughing at the face of all of us who thought that once the law has spoken, the rules can’t be bent out of shape.

Well, Sharma was back in Tihar jail on Thursday after reportedly ‘violating parole conditions’. But a very distasteful aftertaste from the thankfully brief episode lingers. How do our authorities decide on providing parole to convicted criminals? Is there a hidden rule-of-the-thumb that finds it easier to provide judicially sanctioned solace to some and deny it to others based on who the criminal is and what connections and ‘background’ that person may have? We are not making a knee-jerk argument against Sharma getting parole. But considering the fact that the Delhi government was quick to give their sanction to Sharma’s one-month-extended-to-two parole, ostensibly because his mother was unwell (who seemed well enough to make a public appearance in Chandigarh last Saturday) and he had to “attend to business matters” it wouldn’t be too prying of us to ask how this parole works.

Last month, the Delhi High Court asked the government to formulate new guidelines so that parole pleas of convicts could be heard early. The court was reacting to a plea of 28 Tihar jail inmates (none of whom was Manu Sharma) who had complained about the delay in hearing their parole pleas. Perhaps, the problem lies in the fact that Delhi is the only state where the Lieutenant Governor’s approval, rather than that of the Director General of Police (Prisons), determines who gets parole and who doesn’t. By relatively cocooning parole decisions from governmental authorities, perhaps the parole system won’t seem so biased in favour of some and biased against all others. It will also send out the message to criminals who think that they or their ‘ailing’ families can pull strings to make the law their latest plaything.