Sentence Review Board recommends release of Manu Sharma

Updated on May 13, 2020 02:56 AM IST

Siddharth Vashishta,43, better known by his alias Manu Sharma, shot dead model Jessica Lal, who was tending an unlicensed bar at a private party on April 30, 1999, after she refused to serve him a drink well past midnight.

Prime accused ManuSharma was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2006. The Supreme Court upheld the order in 2010.(HT file photo)
Prime accused ManuSharma was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2006. The Supreme Court upheld the order in 2010.(HT file photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Manu Sharma, serving a life term after being convicted of the murder of model Jessica Lal in 1999, may soon be released if Delhi’s lieutenant governor Anil Baijal accepts a recommendation by the Sentence Review Board (SRB), multiple government officials aware of the matter said.

The seven-member SRB met on Monday to decide on the release of 34 convicts, including Sharma, who are all eligible for early release. The board’s recommendation has been sent to Baijal, who will either approve or reject it, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Any convict -- barring one found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape and murder, murder and robbery, murder in cases of terrorism and murder while out on parole -- who has completed 14 years in prison without remission is eligible for early release.

Senior officers in Tihar jail, where Sharma is currently lodged, or those in the Delhi government refused to comment on the development.

Sharma’s lawyer Amit Sahni said:” There is no official communication on the release. But I have learnt from the media that the SRB has recommended his release.”

In November 2019, Sahni approached the Delhi high court seeking Sharma’s release. In his plea, he said that despite spending 23 years in jail (with remission added), and a record of good conduct in prison, the SRB denied his client’s release on four separate occasions in an “unfair and unlawful manner.”

Remission is when a prisoner displays good conduct in prison, his/her sentence is reduced. While Sharma has served around 16 years of actual sentencing, he has completed 23 years with remission.

The Delhi high court asked the board to consider Sharma’s case for release in its next board meeting, which took place on Monday.

The government officials cited above said the SRB met on Monday afternoon at the Delhi Secretariat and discussed the cases of 34 prisoners for early release.

The board consists of the state home minister, who is its chairman, and the prison’s director-general, state home secretary, state law secretary, a district judge, the government’s chief probationary officer and a joint commissioner-rank officer of the Delhi Police.

Siddharth Vashishta,43, better known by his alias Manu Sharma, shot dead model Jessica Lal, who was tending an unlicensed bar at a private party on April 30, 1999, after she refused to serve him a drink well past midnight. He is the son of Haryana politician Venod Sharma.

Sharma’s acquittal by a city court in February 2006 triggered protests across the country, after which the Delhi high court took up the case. The high court reversed the order, saying the lower court ignored or misread material evidence. Sharma was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2006. The Supreme Court upheld the order in 2010.

Responding to the board’s decision to release Sharma, Lal’s sister Sabrina Lal on Tuesday said she had forgiven Sharma.

“It has been 21 years [since the incident]. My fight was always for justice. He has served time for what he did. Now if he is free, it does not bother me much. It is fine. There comes a time, when we have to move on. I have clearly moved on. One can only hope that he(Sharma) does not ever repeat what he did 21 years ago.”

Prison officials said Sharma’s work inside the prison helped his case for release. He runs a non-government organisation, Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust, that started working in Tihar around eight years ago, and has funded the education of the children of prison inmates.

The NGO has also worked towards the rehabilitation of families of underprivileged prisoners. Sharma was transferred in 2018 to the “open prison”, which many officials believed was the penultimate step before his release. Open jail inmates are allowed to step out of prison every morning, work during the day and return in the evening.

“The government found him fit to be lodged in open jail two years ago. They considered him a reformed man and sent him outside to work every day. And yet they weren’t releasing him in the SRB board meeting. Considering the media frenzy in the case, it’s a bold yet practical and just decision by the SRB to release him. We hope Manu continues his humanitarian work in the prison,” said a jail officer who did not wish to be named.

Another prisoner whose case was put up for premature release before the sentence review board was Santosh Singh, convicted of the murder of Delhi University student Priyadarshini Mattoo on January 23, 2006. No office commented on what the board decided on Singh’s case.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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