New Delhi: Enterprising business ideas, his trust’s monetary efforts to educate children of prisoners and good conduct during his stay in Tihar Jail — these are some of the reasons cited by the Sentence Review Board (SRB) while recommending early release of Manu Sharma convicted for the murder of model Jessica Lal.
Sharma, son of former Union minister Venod Sharma, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court in December 2006 for killing Lal in 1999. He is currently out on parole as part of measures to reduce overcrowding in jails in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
His early release, which was reviewed multiple times since 2017, was earlier rejected by a few SRB members, stating that he has been given a life sentence for a “heinous crime”, which cannot be overlooked, and that he violated parole rules in November 2019, sources in the Delhi government told ThePrint.
Sharma was allegedly present at a bar in New Delhi during a brawl, while he was out on parole, which was granted on the grounds of his mother’s ill health. He left the bar before the police could reach. He, however, surrendered in Tihar, 12 days before his parole was supposed to get over.
Sharma’s lawyer Amit Sahni, however, denied that he was involved in any brawl.
“He was never involved in any brawl. This is a mere allegation. Also, that was not a ground for rejection of his early release. There was no action taken against him as he was not found to be involved. There is no police record of the incident and it was just a hype created by the media,” he told ThePrint.
Sahni further said his client has been found to be satisfactory in all reviews.
“In fact, in the current assessment, it was noted that the crime he committed was in the spur of the moment and was not per-meditated. Also, it was noted that he is not a habitual offender and that his propensity of him committing crime is nil,” he added. “It was also noted that he is a useful member of the society.”
“In fact, the (Delhi) high court earlier directed the state to consider his case in light of his incarceration that he has qualified all parameters,” Sahni said.
In the last 16 years, Sharma has been given parole at least 10 times and was shifted to an open jail in 2017, which allows a prisoner to step out in the morning and return in the evening. Since then, Sharma has been going out of Tihar jail to work in his south Delhi office.
The SRB, which is chaired by the Delhi home minister, also includes the director general (prisons), principal secretary (home), principal secretary (law), joint commissioner of police (crime), the government’s chief probation officer and a district judge.
The recommendations by the board, which came this week, will now have to be approved by the office of Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal before Sharma can be released.
Helped kids of inmates, gave ideas to promote TJ’s
According to a prison source, Sharma’s release was recommended as he has already spent 16 years in jail and has never been “punished for any violation” at the prison.
Moreover, Sharma’s trust —Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust — has funded the education of more than 500 children of prisoners, the source said.
“All this is considered ‘good work’. This is charitable work, which helped many children of prisoners, who would have otherwise not been able to get quality education,” the source said.
“Apart from that, Sharma also gave lucrative business ideas to promote the TJ’s (Tihar Jail) brand and has also helped to rehabilitate families of underprivileged prisoners,” the source added.
Sharma helped Tihar to re-brand TJ’s and advertise it well to get recognition, and also helped the turnover rise from Rs 3 crore to Rs 20 crore annually, according to the source.
“He also came up with the idea to start making sugar-free cookies, oats biscuits, masalas, which eventually became very popular, and helped inmates to learn new skills,” the source said.
“Moreover, in 2018, Jessica Lal’s sister Sabrina Lal had written to Tihar Jail authorities stating that she has no objections to Sharma’s release,” he added.
The three criteria for early release
A jail inmate has to fulfil three broad criteria for an early release, said a source in the Delhi government.
One, the prisoner must show “good conduct”. Second, he should have a police report, recommending his release, and third, a social investigation report, which talks about his chances of rehabilitation.
“To have good conduct, a prisoner must not have committed a violation inside the prison, which also includes his behaviour with other inmates and jail staff. Also, he should have never violated rules of parole (which has happened once in Sharma’s case) and must have played an important role in helping fellow inmates,” the government source said.
“In Sharma’s case, prison authorities have given him a good conduct clearance. The Delhi Police and Haryana Police too have recommended his release, and there is no problem about his rehabilitation as he has a business to go back to,” the source added.
This report has been updated to include comments of Manu Sharma’s lawyer, Amit Sahni.