Acting on a Bombay high court order, the state home department recently slashed the prison sentence of an alleged Khalistani terrorist to 30 years.
The state government had earlier decided to extend alleged terrorist Nishant Singh Jaimal Singh Sohel's prison term to 60 years.
Sohel allegedly worked for the Khalistan Commando Force, using terror tactics in Maharashtra to pressurise the central government to establish a separate Khalistan.
He was first sent to prison in 1991 as an undertrial, and later in March 1997, after his conviction to life by a designated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court.
The state government, in a letter to the inspector general of prisons in September 2006, had said that he would have to serve a minimum sentence of 60 years.
The letter stated: "Considering the seriousness of the crime and its social implications, the convict's political philosophy and the premeditated manner in which the serial offences have been committed, likewise, taking into account his present age (31), your recommendation to release him prematurely as per his 14 Year Report is rejected," the under secretary of the home department had stated.
He also that the government would consider his premature release only after he undergoes a minimum 60 years of actual imprisonment.
Following this, in 2009, Sohel had moved the high court, seeking premature release. However, the court dismissed the petition after the state government produced the letter from the home department.
In 2011, Sohel filed a fresh petition, based on which the court quashed the government's decision. His counsel, NN Gavankar, pointed out that the state government's order violated the 1992 guidelines, which form the basis for cases for the premature release of convicts, which provides a maximum term of 30 years for terrorists and extremists. He contended the guidelines did not anywhere provide for a 60 years of imprisonment.
A division bench of justice AM Khanwilkar and justice AR Joshi, in February this year, observed that the government's decision neither refers to the provision, nor assigns any reason for why the authority has specified a 60-year period of imprisonment.