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21 states yet to decide on over 1,600 prisoner pleas for premature release — NALSA tells SC

In jail for over 14 years, these convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by various courts, mainly for murder charges.

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New Delhi: More than 1,600 convicts lodged in various jails across 21 states are yet to receive a response on their applications for premature release, a report prepared by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and submitted to the Supreme Court reveals.

In jail for more than 14 years, these convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by various courts, mainly for murder charges. They are also those who are being provided legal aid by the State Legal Services Authority (SALSA) as they cannot afford private advocates. 

The state jail manual allows them to apply for premature release once they complete 14 years in prison and such a plea must be sent within a month of the expiry of this term. 

The NALSA report further states that 431 prisoners have not applied for premature release. It, however, does not clarify whether these prisoners are aware of their rights to file such an application with state government authorities. 

The legal services authority had filed its report before a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul Monday in a matter related to an appeal filed by a convict in murder case in Chhattisgarh.

It was noted by the bench that the petitioner, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, had completed 14 years in March 2017 and according to the Chhattisgarh Prison Rules, was entitled to file an application for premature release. 

Jail authorities, however, had forwarded his application to the Chhattisgarh home department only on 17 September, 2019, while the latter took one more year to accept it and he was finally released from jail on 2 October 2020. 

The court also realised that in all such cases, appeals against the order of conviction involving these convicts were processed by jail authorities only when they were close to completing their 14-year jail term. This, it observed, was being done to complete a formality.

The apex court has now taken it upon itself to lay down a timeline for jail authorities to prepare and forward premature-release applications on behalf of incarcerated convicts who have spent 14 years in jail. It has asked NALSA to submit its suggestions on this front, saying these uniform guidelines will be meant for all state jails. 

Also read: UAPA doesn’t stop courts from granting bail when fundamental rights are violated, SC says

‘Jail superintendent should advise prisoners to file premature release pleas’

According to the Supreme Court, it is the jail superintendent’s duty to look into all such matters to make sure that a prisoner avails the legal remedy available to him or her. 

Advocate Gaurav Aggarwal, who appeared for NALSA in the matter, told ThePrint that the jail manual mandates the superintendents to advise inmates to file appeals against their conviction orders as well as guide them to send their applications for premature release. 

“As per the state jail manual, it has to be an automatic application for premature release, which the jail superintendent is under obligation to facilitate,” Aggarwal said. “The officer must ensure that documents needed for the consideration are sent to the government, which then has to call for reports from the prison authorities and doctor on the convict’s behavioural pattern.” 

There are 752 convicts whose applications for premature release have been rejected by the state, the NALSA report said. 

‘What is the timeline followed?’

The Supreme Court has called upon the states to file an affidavit setting out as to what process it has or proposes to initiate to ensure that immediately on completing 14 years of sentence, according to the rules, the application is sent for consideration for remission.

The court has also asked the state governments to explain for how long it has been sitting on the over 1,600 applications for premature release.

The court has said it would like time schedules to be fixed within which such applications are processed by the home department and that this should not take more than two to three months, unlike the present case where it has taken a year.

“The objective of our directions is to ensure that such situations at least do not arise in future,” said the court, giving three weeks to the state to file an affidavit in this regard. 

On belated appeals, the court said NALSA must ensure that such petitions against conviction orders are filed in cases where it is felt the judgment deserves to be examined on merits and not in every case. 

The focus, it added, may shift to “make sure the remedy available to the detenues, more specifically of remission is made available at the earliest”. The services of para legal volunteers who visit jails should be utilised for this purpose, the apex court said.

Also read: Judge, who passed controversial POCSO orders, was appointed despite reservation by 2 SC judges

The report has been updated to reflect that 21 states are yet to decide on prisoner pleas for premature release, not just Chhattisgarh. The error is regretted.

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