Observing that the Maharashtra government was bestowing undue “favours” on life convicts by releasing them prematurely — after they complete 18 years of sentence — the Bombay High Court has directed it to frame statutory rules under the Prisons Act, 1894.
Last week, a division bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice AR Joshi directed the secretary of the home department to “look into the said aspect and take appropriate remedial and corrective measures, including against concerned officials who were responsible for favouring those convicts”.
The court was hearing a petition by a convict Harjeetsingh Jabbal, 50, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in a 1994 murder and dacoity case in Bhoiwada. The sessions court had sentenced him to life imprisonment in August 1998. He is lodged at the Yerawada jail and has undergone 15 years of actual imprisonment, inclusive of the undertrial period, and 22 years of imprisonment with remission (leave from prison to visit home).
Jabbal had made an application to the home department for premature release, which was rejected in September 2009 on the grounds that he was not entitled to it as per the Guidelines of 1992. As per category 5(a) of the 1992 Guidelines, a ‘murder with dacoity’ convict has to spend 26 years behind bars.
Jabbal challenged the decision before the high court claiming that the Guidelines of November 1978 state the maximum period of imprisonment, with remission, is 22 years. Rejecting this argument, the high court said that the 1978 Guidelines were superseded by the 1992 Guidelines so Jabbal could not claim benefit under the earlier guidelines.
“The guidelines of 1978 have been superseded and are not applicable to prisoners undergoing life sentence. Instead, the prisoners are governed by the revised guidelines of 1992,” the bench said.
The secretary of the home department has been directed to look into the matter.