Days after Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan defended extension of actor Sanjay Dutt's parole, the state government today faced flak from the Bombay High Court for showing "extra diligence" in the matter and discriminating between him and other convicts.
The court also directed the state's Chief Secretary to form a committee comprising senior home, law and judiciary department officials, representatives of jail administration and other competent officers to suggest amendments to the rules and procedure related to screening of parole and furlough applications. "This type of diligence is not shown for all convicts. Why does the state government adopt a casual approach when the convict is a common man? We have seen in many cases convicts approach us stating their parole and furlough applications are not decided for months together and then we have to interfere and direct for their pleas to be processed," a division bench of justices NH Patil and VL Achliya said while hearing a PIL against extension of parole to Dutt, convicted in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts case.
Dutt's parole was recently extended till March 21 by the Pune Divisional Commissioner on ground of his wife Manyata's ill health. "The medical report says she (Manyata) is suffering from TB and requires treatment at home and that she may require surgery in future. There are cases where convicts who are themselves suffering from cancer and other life threatening diseases are not granted parole," Justice Achliya said after perusing the report. "We are not saying that his wife is not that ill as it is made out to be. Pain and suffering is equal to all. But the discrimination is done by the state government," observed Justice Patil.
The bench was also critical of the fact that while granting Dutt parole the authority had imposed a bond of only Rs 5000 on him. "In every other case we have seen bond of Rs 10000, Rs 15000 and 20000 is levied and poor convicts approach high court seeking for the bond amount to be lowered. Suddenly in this case you have come down to Rs 5000. The authorities should exercise their discretion properly," the court said.
While directing the Chief Secretary to constitute a committee to suggest amendments to rules and machinery governing parole and furlough to which, it said, radical changes were required, the bench asked the state government to intimate it within four weeks about steps taken in that regard. "The government, we have noticed, has issued circulars from time to time asking all divisional commissioners to consider and decide parole and furlough applications in a time bound manner. But these circulars are being violated by your own officers. No corrective steps are being taken," Justice Patil said.
Petitioner's lawyer Nikhil Chaudhari argued that while Dutt's application for parole and then its extension were considered and decided within a week, similar applications of other convicts were kept pending for months together. "Convicts in the same 1993 blasts case like Zaibunissa Kazi, who is suffering from kidney failure and Farooq Motorwala, whose wife is suffering from serious illness, had to come to high court seeking their applications filed last year to be decided," Chaudhari said.
He said Dutt, who surrendered on May 16, 2013 was out on furlough wihin four months. "In October he was granted furlough of 28 days and then in December he was granted parole and is out since then. Dutt has availed 118 days of furlough and leave in nine months," Chaudhari said.
Dutt's lawyer Hitesh Jain, however, submitted RTI documents showing the number of applications decided by the Pune divisional commissioner in the past three years. "In 2011, the divisional commissioner granted 718 pleas and rejected 3. In 2012, 373 were granted and only one was rejected. In 2013, 359 were granted and 11 rejected. The divisional commissioner is lenient in general and has not shown any bias towards Dutt," Jain said.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had last week defended the decision to extend parole to Dutt, saying the action was taken as per law and no rules were violated. "Decisions are taken as per law, without violating any provisions. Decisions are taken at the appropriate level. There is nothing political in it, no rules were violated," he had said amid controversy over frequent leave granted to the actor.
The Bollywood actor was granted a month-long parole on December 6 last year, which was extended by another 30 days last month on account of his wife's illness. Before that, he was on a month-long leave of furlough on medical grounds.
Dutt's release on parole in December had sparked protests outside Yerawada jail, forcing the government to order an inquiry.
The actor has been convicted under Arms Act for illegal possession of weapons, part of a cache to be used during the terror attack. Of his five years sentence, Dutt has completed 18 months and is serving the remaining term.