Maharashtra went by prison manual rules alone: RTI reply
In a startling revelation, the Yerwada central prison authorities in Pune have said the Central Government was not consulted on granting remission of jail sentence to actor Sanjay Dutt, convicted in the Mumbai serial blasts case. He was sentenced to five-year imprisonment under the Arms Act, a central legislation and was granted remission on the grounds of “good conduct.”Replying to questions filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by A.G. Perarivalan, a life convict in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Deputy Superintendent of the prison said there was no record of any correspondence or file noting since the case did not pertain to “premature” release.The official said the actor’s release was ordered as per the remission rules of the Maharashtra Prison Manual. There was no rule to consult either the Central or State governments for the release, he said. The relief given to Mr. Dutt was for “good conduct” as per the prison manual and not derived from Constitutional or Cr.PC provisions.However, Perarivalan’s advocates argue that Mr. Dutt’s release should have been done only with the concurrence of the Centre since he was convicted under the Arms Act. In 2015 a five-member Constitutional Bench in the Sriharan alias Murugan & others vs the Union of India case, ruled that the Centre was the appropriate authority to reduce sentence in cases of offences under the Arms Act.In a handwritten note to The Hindu sent through his advocate, Perarivalan, lodged in Puzhal central prison in Chennai, said that his intention was not to bring Mr Dutt back to prison to complete his term but amend the apex court judgment in the Sriharan case since it was not being followed in letter and spirit. Though both the cases pertained to an act of terror, the Centre was adopting a “pick and choose” attitude when it came to granting premature release to prisoners, he said.According to S. Prabu Ramasuramanian, one of Perarivalan’s counsels, the State of Maharashtra sought to exercise its inherent powers in the matter of granting remission to Mr. Dutt. This would not be legally tenable since the prisoner was convicted under the Arms Act and the Union Government alone was the appropriate Government to grant remission or suspense of sentence as per the Supreme Court guidelines. That Mr. Dutt was released for good conduct under the provisions of the prison manual was not legally sustainable, he said.Mr. Ramasubramanian said that both his client and Dutt’s cases were investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation. While Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was upheld in the case of Mr. Dutt, it was set aside in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The crucial point was that the appropriate government for granting relief for Mr. Dutt was the Union Government since his sentence was under the Arms Act. In the case of Perarivalan, the appropriate government was the State of Tamil Nadu as the convict had completed his sentence awarded under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and Passport Act (both Central Acts).People’s Union for Civil Liberties national general secretary V. Suresh said prima facie it appeared that the State of Maharashtra exercised its power in an arbitrary and non-judicious manner. The tacit concurrence of the Central Government was obvious by their inaction after the release. “While by no stretch are we advocating the cancellation of Mr. Dutt’s release, the benefit should also be extended to other prisoners who are similarly placed. The State has strategically used the prison manual knowing well that the provisions under the Constitution Cr.PC are the only two laws in India to deal with the issue of premature release,” Dr. Suresh said.